‘Belier,’ Wild Bunch Promo, ‘Daddy or Mommy’ Highlights at 2015 UniFrance Rendez-vous (EXCLUSIVE)

Of RDV titles, ‘Caprices,’ ‘Memories,’ ‘Fidelio,’ ‘Tournament’ spark sales, buzz

‘Belier,’ Wild Bunch Promo, ‘Daddy or

PARIS – SND French blockbuster “La Famille Belier,” a Wild Bunch promo reel and a new Pathe comedy “Daddy or Mommy” proved highlights at a packed 17th UniFrance Rendez-vous with French Cinema – 600 foreign distributors attended, up 9% vs. 2013 – which had begun to spark first deals by its wrap on Monday.

“Caprices,” “The Tournament,” “Fidelio” and “Memories” proved other sought-after or buzz titles. Yet others, projects or movies in production or post, were pitched with an eye to further pre-sales at Berlin’s European Film Market.

Inevitably, the Charlie Hebdo massacre played out over the French film mart. Sales co Kinology received 45 petitions in the five days after the slaughter from distributors, festivals and TVs, all requesting the French documentary “Cartoonists: Foot Soldiers of Democracy,” by Stephanie Valloatto: Either for the whole film or extracts. Playing out of competition at Cannes, “Cartoonists” was added to the RDV’s screenings line-up. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s arrival at the Intercontinental-Grand Hotel, where the RDV took place, brought a seemingly endless entourage of police vans. Armed police operatives patrolled outside during his stay.

Few film execs are under any illusion about the large challenges now facing the indie international biz. “There are no new trends but a real transformation is still happening: Buyers are still battling with uncertainties as to whether the broadcasters in their territories will buy, how far DVD markets will drop and to what extent VOD’s build will compensate,” said Wild Bunch’s Carole Baraton. “Bottom-line theatrical success is more and more necessary for this equation when they take the decision to acquire a movie.”

On the upside, at least for France, “French comedies are still hot material for buyers in most markets apart from the English-speaking territories where our brand of humor is not so popular,” said Yohann Comte at Gaumont, whose “I Kissed a Girl” unspooled at a packed screening.

As an event, the French film mart remains highly popular. “The Rendez-vous was as wonderful as ever. At a time when everyone was concerned about what the mood in Paris was going to be, it was business as usual. People came not just to show solidarity but also to acquire,” said Frank Mannion, at London’s Swipe Films, which acquired “Les Ames de papier,” with Julie Gayet (“My Best Friend”), off last year’s RDV.

Other participants agreed. “The Unifrance Rendez-vous has become a key event for professionals interested in French Cinema. It proves that French production remains so rich in term of its number of films and diversity,” said Francois Truffart, COLCOA artistic director. “France is certainly the only country able to offer such a showcase with so many premieres presented just a few weeks before the European Film Market.”

A dramedy, Eric Lartigau’s “La Famille Belier,” which is sold by the SND-M6 Group, is motoring at €25.9 million ($35.1 million) at the French box office, and with still some gas in the tank. It was enjoyed by many distributors, even if they didn’t have the title, which has been pre-sold or sold near worldwide, bar the U.S., of major territories.

Mopping up outstanding Eastern Europe territories, at the RDV SND closed Poland (Monolith), Turkey (Kurmaca) and Czech Republic. Hungary, Romania and former-Yugoslavia are under negotiations, said SND’s Charlotte Boucon.

Turning on a girl with a remarkable voice whose family is otherwise comprised of deaf-mutes, sees major bows in March in Germany (Concorde), Spain (Vertigo) and Italy (BIM). “It’s well-crafted, heart-warming. I think it will be the best French release in Germany this year, huge,” said another German distributor, who was still enthusiastic about the title. “La Famille Belier” bowed spectacularly in Colombia Jan. 8-11 – a first weekend 69,704 tix sold – underscoring its international credentials.

One of the five most-attended sessions, along with almost all comedies –  “Daddy or Mommy,” “I Kissed a Girl” “A Perfect Man” and “Chic”!, per UniFrance – the Wild Bunch promo reel screening had distributors talking up strong candidates for Cannes, if they are ready. Two teasers which particularly got distributors talking came from lesser-known directors: Academy Award winner Luc Jacquet’s “Ice and the Sky,” a portrait of 82-year-old Claude Lorius’ scientific and emotional journey since discovering the Antarctic at the age of 23, and which allowed him to confirm global warming; and Lucile Hadzihalilovic “Evolution,”’ a follow-up to “Innocence,” which Wild Bunch also sold, set on a island which is inhabited only by women, and young boys, who never reach adulthood. Also Wild Bunch buzz titles: Joann Sfar’s new film, “The Lady in the Car With Glasses and A Gun,” an identity mystery thriller, starring Elio Germano, Stacy Martin and, a name to remember, Freya Mavor; and Arnaud Desplechin’s drama “Three Memories of Childhood,” with Mathieu Amalric.

For many, though the film had its opt-outs who found its later half outrageously politically-incorrect, Pathe’s “Daddy or Mommy” was the comedy of the market, prompting hilarity at a packed foreign distributor screening Friday. Starring Marina Fois (“Polisse”) and Laurent Lafitte (“On the Other Side of the Tracks”) as a couple getting a divorce, both with the career breaks of their lives, so battling not to have custody of their children, it will be released wide in France Feb. 4, in the same early Feb berth as Dany Boon’s “Nothing to Declare,” which grossed  around $62 million in France. Pathe will be in a position to announce a list of distributors shortly, said Pathe’s Muriel Sauzay

2015’s Rendez-vous, “was a unique program, and again an opportunity to discover first films of very talented filmmakers, particularly from women.  There is no other country where so many women can put their talent into life as a writer and/or director,” said Truffart. Two distaff debuts stood out. Elodie Namur helmed MK2’s buzz title, the Budapest hotel-set “The Tournament” where a still young chess grandmaster is taken on by a child prodigy.

Picked up in early September by Pyramide Intl. – which made its Paris screening its effective market premiere – actress-turned-director Lucie Borleteau’s Locarno competition hit, “Fidelio: Alice’s Journey,” an ocean-set tale of romantic doubt, was well-liked as an arthouse title. “The reaction has been highly positive,” said Pyramide Intl.’s Lucero Garzon. Sold to Switzerland (Xenix), Brazil (Imovision) and Hong Kong (Sundream),“Fidelio” now has offers from the U.S. and Spain and strong interest from Canada, Denmark and Sweden. Pyramide will press forward on sales at Berlin’s European Film Market, Garzon added. “Fidelio” won a Special Mention at Palm Springs, Borleteau took the Woman in Film Award and press award at France’s Les Arcs.

A challenger to “Daddy or Mummy” for the RDV comedy crown, Kinology-sold love triangle romcom “Caprices,” starring director Emmanuel Mouret, plus Anais Demoustier (“Bird People,” “The New Girlfriend”) and Belgium’s Virginie Efira, reportedly a knock-out, to Portugal (Lusomundo), Hungary (Vertigo), Turkey (Kalinos), Brazil (Mares Filmes). It has Spain, Scandinavia and Greece under negotiation, said Kinology Gaelle Mareschi. “Although slightly lighter, Mouret is the only heir to Eric Rohmer: Classy, bourgeois, human, a great caster of actresses,” Mareschi said. Kinology boss Gregoire Melin was locking Germany by market end.

Described as a “cute, well-done, charming” film by one exec who caught it in Paris, Jean-Paul Rouve’s “Memories,” a three generation family drama sold by TF1 Intl., has closed Germany (Neue Visionen), Canada (Axial), Benelux (Cineart), Switzerland (Pathe), Portugal (Lusomundo) and Israel (Eden). Italy and Spain are in talks, said TF1 Intl.’s Sabine Chemaly.

“The best thing at the Unifrance Rendez-Vous is the proximity we have with buyers for three days, that allows us to get their feedback on projects and movies screening very fast,” said Gilles Sousa, at Bac Films. He added: “Timing-wise, it’s also very convenient since it takes place two weeks before Berlin. For instance, we didn’t have finished movies to sell but we teased distributors with the script of ‘Taj Mahal’ and other unfinished films like ‘La Volante’ and invited them to see the promos at Berlin.”

Gaumont’s Comte agreed. “Usually the Unifrance Rendez-Vous is a place where we make deals on finished films and this time around we were able to close some pre-sales on a romantic comedy that we’ll announce in Berlin. The fact that we were able to sign these pre-sales there demonstrates that the Rendez-vous has become a key market, as all the important European buyers turn up to find the next French gem.

Of upcoming films, there was a good buzz on Memento Films Intl.’s French period drama “Marguerite,” directed by Xavier Giannoli (“In the Beginning,” “Superstar”), and loosely inspired by Florence Foster Jenkins, dubbed the world’s worst soprano. “Marguerite” has reportedly struck major territory pre-sales. Studiocanal’s upcoming highlight was “Mon Roi,” a said-to-be-gripping love drama starring Emmanuelle Bercot and Vincent Cassel, which marks Maiwenn’s follow up to “Polisse,” a Cannes’ jury prize winner in 2011.

Of other titles, following its Oscilloscope U.S. pick-up off its Toronto world premiere, the UDI-sold “Felix and Meira,” Maxime Giroud’s atheist guy/Hasidic woman love story, has closed Belgium (Imagine), Netherlands (Amstelfilm), Switzerland (Cineworx), Australia/New Zealand (JIFF), Taiwan (Joint Ent.), Argentina (CDI) and Colombia (Cinecolombia). There are ongoing discussions for Italy, the U.K. and Israel, said UDI’s Delphyne Besse. Urban Distribution will release “Felux” in France Feb. 4-

Adolfo Blanco’s A Contracorriente Films bought Spanish rights to Yann Gozlan’s Pierre Niney-starrer “A Perfect Man” from SND. In an early sale, mid-life crisis tale “Interlude,” from Bernard Tanguy, which had fans among distributors who saw it, was bought for the Czech Republic and Slovakia by Film Europe, said Kasia Karwan, at sales agent Premium Films. “It’s very well done,” reported one distributor.

Average screening distributor attendance was up on 2014, said UniFrance deputy managing director Gilles Renouard. One of the most looked-forward-to events on the market calendar, the Paris Rendez-vous also included a mass press junket for around 135 foreign journos, who met talent on French films soon-to-be-released in their territories.

“You save a lot on P &A: It’s a very cost-effective way to have the actress in your film come to the Grand Hotel and meet with journalists,” Mannion commented. “I see the Rendez-vous as a voyage of discovery for new titles, for building and maintaining your relationships with sales agents, finding out about their slate for Berlin and Cannes and also, if you have a film releasing in the first quarter of the year, an opportunity for talent to be interviewed by key press in your country.”

Maybe the most appreciated film seen during this year’s RDV didn’t even play there, however.

Buzz off a private screening of Wild Bunch’s “Wolf Totem,” arranged for distributors who had bought the film and German buyers who had shown interest in it, is that director Jean-Jacques Annaud is back. “Wolf Totem” will now premiere at the Berlin European Film Market and bids fair to be one of its highlights there.