Cannes: Pablo Larrain’s Gael Garcia Bernal-Starrer ‘Neruda’ Closes France, U.K., Germany, Italy (EXCLUSIVE)

Participant Media has U.S. rights, co-producer Septembro Spain on Pablo Larrain’s Gael awaited vision of the Nobel Prize winning poet forging his legend

MADRID — Co-financed by Participant Media, Gael Garcia Bernal starrer “Neruda,” directed by Chile’s Pablo Larrain (“No” “The Club”) and one of the highest-profile entries at Cannes 2016 Directors’ Fortnight, has closed robust pre-sales in the four biggest of Europe’s Big Five territories. Alongside the U.S., these rank as the world’s weightiest markets for foreign-language cross-over fare.

Jeff Skoll’s Participant Media acquired North American rights as part of its co-financing deal.

Now Wild Bunch Distribution has closed France, Piffl Medien Germany/Austria, Good Films rights to Italy, and Network Distributing the U.K. In a relationship with Pablo Larrain which dates back to “Tony Manero,” Paris-based sales agent Funny Balloons has also licensed “Neruda” to Hong Kong (Golden Scene), Portugal (Alambique) and Switzerland (Filmcoopi).

Twentieth Century Fox will distribute “Neruda” in Chile. Spain-based co-produced Setembro Films holds rights to Spain, Argentine producer AZ Films those to Argentina.

Funny Balloons Peter Danner is now in negotiations “with pretty much the rest of the world,” he told Variety. Participant Media’s reteaming with Pablo and producer brother Juan de Dios Larrain, Garcia Bernal and Funny Balloons after “No,” the first investment by Jeff Skoll’s company in a foreign-language film, “Neruda” is written by Guillermo Calderon, Chile’s foremost playwright, Chilean playwright Guillermo Calderon, who co-penned Andres Wood’s “Violeta Went to Heaven,” a Sundance 2012 World Cinema Jury Prize winner, as well as Larrain’s 2015 Berlin Grand Jury Prize winner, “The Club.”

Neruda belongs to a new, if still highly select, breed of powerful cross-over movies emerging in Latin America and Spain – Damian Szifron’s “Wild Tales” and Pablo Trapero’s abduction thriller “The Clan,” a Venice best director winner, are the two most obvious examples. Art films with more mainstream tropes and wider audience ambitions, they boast amped-up budgets, multiple partner co-production structures, often star presence or star directors, big fest potential, VFX or action scenes, without however forsaking artistic ambitions.

“Neruda,” for example, is a period piece, set between 1946-48, as the Cold War kicks in hard, shot on location in Chile which can be taken as a cart-and-mouse chase movie, but also a chronicle of how history is made, including by its own protagonists.

It turns on Pablo Neruda – played by Luis Gnecco (HBO’s “Profugos”) –  a poet and communist senator who lambasts the government for its incarceration of striking miners. Impeached by President Gonzalez Videla, he goes on the run as a warrant is issued for his arrest. Smuggled by friends from house to house, pursued by Police Prefect Oscar Puluchonneau (Garcia Bernal), he is positively inspired by this dramatic turn of events. Neruda has already established a literary reputation with love poems and the Eliot-ish “Residencia en la Tierra.” Underground, however, he seizes the chance to consolidate a new identity and legend, as a persecuted poet and symbol of freedom and, writing “Canto General,” a Whitmanseque ode to Latin America, as a towering figure in Latin American literature. At least in the film, he plays with the police inspector, leaving details to make their game of cat-and-mouse more dangerous, and intimate.

“The film turns on Pablo Neruda’s defining his identity as a human being, where he stands for the rest of his life,” said Juan de Dios Larrain at Chile’s Fabula, “Neruda’s” lead producer.

It “describes one year of his life. We drive deep into a real human being, his feelings, decisions.” But the film doesn’t place Neruda on a pedestal, Larrain added.

“Neruda” is “fun, original, portrays a character people think they know in a different light, and works as entertainment as well,” says Funny Balloons’ Peter Danner. “It’s an example of how we’re growing to make broader movies, while the filmmaker remains true to himself.”

All sales were made on the basis of the screenplay, said Danner. “Distributors liked the approach to Pablo Neruda’s character in a story which is not classic biography,” he added.

Several distributors have worked on Larrain movies before. Handling Wild Bunch, Pan-Europeenne Production and Wild Side titles, as well as a disparate mix of French comedies, big fest titles, and U.S. indie fare, Wild Bunch France distributed Pablo Larrain’s “The Club” in France.

Acquiring often high-profile arthouse/crossover movies, Italy’s Good Films counts Jean-Marc Vallee’s “Dallas Buyers’ Club,” Xavier Dolan’s “Mommy” and Studiocanal’s untitled James Marsh project among pick-ups. Network released “No” in the U.K. Piffl Medien were the German distributors for both “No” and “The Club.”

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