Locarno: ‘Let the Corpses Tan,’ ‘Iceman,’ ’Winter Brothers,’ ‘Lucky’ Lead Buzz and Biz

Meanwhile Todd Haynes, Olivier Assayas announce new films, and several U.S. deals look in the offing

Lucky Movie SXSW
Courtesy of Stefania Rosini

LOCARNO, Switzerland — “Let the Corpses Tan,” “Iceman,” “Winter Brothers” and “Lucky” led biz or buzz as Locarno headed towards its final straits on Wednesday morning, with, of new films, “Three Peaks” and “A Skin So Soft” having drawn to date maybe the biggest critical plaudits – often the driver  of subsequent sales on Locarno titles.

Of on-site deals, maybe the biggest for Europe sealed to date has been Magnolia Intl.’s for Germany, Austria and Switzerland with Zurich-based Xenix Filmsdistribution on John Carroll Lynch’s “Lucky,” starring Harry Dean Stanton, and a Locarno International Competition player.

World premiering at SXSW, the title scored a rave Variety review earlier this year, being described as “an unassumingly wonderful little film about nothing in particular and everything that’s important.” Locarno audience and critical reaction was also positive.

Most of the surrounding territories were closed on “Lucky” in Cannes so the film will get released across the region, said Scott Veltri, head of international at Magnolia. Xenix is now in discussions with German and Austrian distributors for releases in their respective territories on “Lucky,” added Xenix managing director Cyril Thurston.

Popular on Variety

Packing a robust industry presence of arthouse and crossover distributors, Locarno industry news flow had already been galvanized by announcements of new films by fest honoree Todd Haynes – a Velvet Underground documentary feature teaming Haynes, producer Christine Vachon, Dave Blackman and Universal Music Group – and by Locarno jury president Olivier Assayas: “E-Book,” with Juliette Binoche and Guillaume Canet, and marking Assayas’ first full-on comedy, an ensemble piece set in the world of Paris publishing. Charles Gillibert’s CG Cinema produces.

Ranging from The Match Factory (“The Song of Scorpions”), Memento Films Intl. (“3/4,” for its Artscope label), Films Boutique (“A Skin So Soft,” “Chien”), New Europe Film Sales (“Winter Brothers”), Stray Dogs (“Good Luck,” “The Asteroids”), Luxbox (“Cocote”) and Wide Management (“Goliath”), major arthouse sales agents moved smartly on key titles at Locarno across a range of sections in the run-up to the Swiss Festival, another sign of its industry drawing power.

Longer-term industry trends may explain in part the determination of skilled sales agents to place plum pick-ups at Locarno. Blessed by a considerable press presence, Locarno can generate reviews which aid a film’s French release, said Gilles Sousa at Paris’ Bac Films which also runs a French distribution operation. Distributors’ decision making also now takes so long that it is not at all a bad idea to launch a film onto a market as soon as possible and not necessarily wait for Venice or Toronto, he added.

Conversely, the ever more strung-out process of closing sales on a film means that fewer deals are signed, sealed and announced out of festivals themselves. But, at Locsrno at least, reviews and industry buzz remain very often reliable bellwethers to subsequent trading.

Buzz on Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani’s “Let the Corpses Tan,” sold by BAC Films, is that a North American deal will soon go down on the ultra-stylized neo-Western. The retro, color-drenched movie, a sustained, whiplash-edited, bloodbath cliff-top shootout, is, by common consensus, a film that critics and audiences will love or hate. But, also by common consensus, it seems obvious catnip for fest midnight screening slots with further niche release potential.

International distributors at Locarno were also talking up the more mainstream possibilities of writer-director Felix Randau’s “Iceman,” sold by Beta Cinema and selected for a Piazza Grande screening, often a sign of more crowd-pleasing potential. Debuting Tuesday – so most reviews are not in – “Iceman,” another neo-Western, is a survival thriller, set in lofty Alps and Neolithic times, and fictionalizing the quest for revenge of Otzi, a Neolithic clan chief whose tribe is slaughtered. “Otzi” was the name given to a perfectly preserved body, with a crushed skull, suggesting murder, and dated as 5,300 years old, found in a glacier in Northern Austria in 1991. Some major territories, Germany for instance, have already gone down on “Iceman,” reckoned by some distributors as one of the biggest and highest-concept, mainstream items on the market at Locarno.

Sparking largely upbeat critical reactions – Variety called it an “exceptionally crafted ‘lack-of-love’ story” that sometimes recalls the Greek Weird Wave work of Yorgos Lanthimos rather than sitting in the new wave of Nordic Cinema – “Winter Brothers”, the first feature from Iceland’s Hlynur Pálmason, has closed Poland (New Horizons) and Greece (Strada) for Jan Naszweski’s New Europe Film Sales. The U.S, France and Australia are under discussions, Naszweski added.

Of buzz, repped by The Match Factory and screening in Piazza Grande, a tried-and-tested winning sales combination for the German sales company, “Three Peaks” drew a glowing reaction from Variety: “A tense, gripping, expertly made three-hander that tests conflicting ideas of fatherhood in the crucible of a mountainside vacation.”

Sold by Films Boutique, “A Skin So Soft,” from Locarno regular Denis Côté, also won plaudits: “Smooth, bulging, oiled, tatted, exposed: Denis Côté’s humane fascination with six bodybuilders tosses aside grandstanding and focuses on the odd duality of man and muscle,” Variety said.

Of further trading Beijing-based Movie View Intl. confirmed on Locarno’s eve that it had acquired overseas sales rights to “DragonFly Eyes.”  A love story set in an ultra-tech China and  produced by Xu Bing, Zhai Yongming and Matthieu Laclau, it debuted Tuesday in Locarno’s International Competition.

In unannounced deals, Zurich-based Xenix Filmdistribution has also acquired Swiss rights to “Three Peaks” on top of “Lucky” for Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Titles join a Xenix Switzerland distribution slate which includes “The Square” and “The Killing of a Sacred Dear,” deals made off Cannes, and the pre-buys of Frederick Wiseman’s latest doc “Ex Libris.” and “Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda,” both in Official Selection at Venice.

Paris-based Wide Management reported a sale to Filmarti for Turkey on both Dutch “Waterboys” and “The Father,” the upcoming film from the directors of Locarno 2016 premiere “Glory.” Mythenfilm took Swiss rights to “Glory,” in deals closed at Locarno.

Spaniard Ignacio Nacho’s sex comedy “The Exchange,” starring Almodovar regular Rossy de Palma, has been picked up by German-based world sales company Media Luna. The non-Locarno movie world premiered at Spain’s Malaga Festival in March.

Of major industry prizes, “Portugal,” a evolving humored marriage relationship dramaand the debut film feature of renowned Estonian playwright Lauri Lagle, took the biggest prize at Locarno’s First Look pix-in-post showcase. Top film honors at its Open Doors co-production and networking forum were shared by Dawood Hilmandi’s “Badeszenen” and “One Summer Day,” from Myanmar’s We Ra.

Pretty well all festivals have panels. No other festival has succeeded so well in creating a unique discussion forum as Locarno with StepIn. Addressing this year the dramatic emergence of VOD platforms as major industry players over the last decade, it suggested that the polemics over Cannes’ selection of two Netflix titles will not be a flash in the pan, and that major industry tensions will continue to rile into at least the near future.

One example: Sales agents have generally welcomed Netflix as an additional revenue source often paying top dollar for titles. The inclusion of Netflix titles at a major festival was branded, however, as a “wasted opportunity” by one seller at StepIn for sales agents to have a film in a major fest berth and play the field for offers from incumbent and VOD players. That frustration is not likely to go away. No industry force, even one as large as Netflix, can please all of the people all of the time.