‘Raid: Special Unit,’ ‘Alibi.com,’ ‘Paris Opera’ Fire Up UniFrance Rendez-Vous

Comedies, thrillers, focus energise the French film market.

‘Raid’ ‘Alibi.com,’ ‘Opera’ Fire Up UniFrance
Courtesy of TF1 Studio

PARIS –“Raid: Special Unit,” “Alibi.com,” and “Opera” looked to be among favourite titles at the 19th UniFrance Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, the annual Gallic film market attended by France’s sales agents and around 500 foreign distributors.

Based out of the Place d’Opera, one of Paris’ great grand hotels, the biggest national film showcase in Europe also saw sales on Elle Driver’’s “If I Were a Boy,” and Other Angle’s “Don’t Tell Her” and good word on “You Choose!” sold, like “Raid,” by Pathé .

Most major sales companies will take days if not weeks not close sales on negotiations broached at the Rendez-Vous; the initial reaction, however, is that, with Omar Sy starrer “Two is Family”earning a first-week $1.6 million in Germany off a Jan. 7 bow, the 2017 Rendez-Vous served up a stronger batch of comedies, its main export staple, than in 2017, while its buzz titles prescribed a wider gamut than last year, taking in drama, genre and documentaries as a new generation of directors, producer and sales agents launch a clutch of well-crafted thrillers from first time directors. Of Rendez-Vous highlights:

*Dany Boon’s special ops comedy, “Raid: Special Unit,” a tribute to France’s SWAT elite force, the RAID, played to guffaws and a final applause. Major territories sales with mainstream distributors had already gone down for Pathé by the RDV.

*An affable semi-gross-out from Philippe Lacheau, “Babysitting’s” co-director/star, “Alibi.com,” generally well received in Paris, and featuring some memorable gags – such as a cat confusing a man’s most intimate parts for a mouse – has closed a dozen-or-more initial sales including major territories such as Latin America (California Filmes) and Eastern Europe, TFI Studio announced at the RDV.

*“Geographically, the Rendez-Vous this year was a wonderful experience. We’re staying right by the Opera, the cinema we see films in is the Gaumont Opera and there was a wonderful documentary called ‘The Paris Opera.” said Frank Mannion at U.K.’s Swipe Films. Relating the emotional time of the Batacan terrorist attack and the solidarity shown by French music-lovers, this was a “moving documentary,” said Mannion; at Leszek Mastowski at Poland’s Tongariro Releasing compared the ambition of Jean-Stephane Bron’s film to Robert Altman’s“The Company.”

*High-concept comedy “If I Were a Boy,” about a woman who wakes up with a penis, has clinched major territories for Elle Driver including Germany (Tele Munchen’s Concorde), Italy (Adler Ent.), Russia and the Baltics (Silver Box) and South Korea (First Run).

*Other Angle Pictures, the 2017 Rendez-Vous biggest comedy seller with eight titles screening, closed first territories on female friendship imbroglio “Don’t Tell Her,” selling Switzerland (JMH) and Belgium (O’Brother), normally the first territories to go on French comedies, as well as Austria (Thym Films) and Turkey (Fabula), with Italy, Spain, Russia and Greece under negotiations. Dinner-set sitcom “Babyphone,” which had its fans among distributors, is about to close Italy, Germany, Canada, Greece and Turkey, said Other Angle’s Olivier Albou, also announcing that JMH had acquired “In & Out,” “Just Divorced” and “How I Met My Father. ”

This year’s highlights straddled multiple film types. “Thierry Fremaux live commented“Lumiere!” a “mini-masterpiece,” said Mannion, pointing out that it played less than a kilometer from where the Lumières invented cinema at the Grand Cafe.

To get to the Gaumont Opera from the Intercontinental, distributors walked past Offenbach’s house, where he composed “Orpheus and the Underworld, Mannion pointed out.”

“This year at the Rendez-Vous, there was a real pleasure looking at thriller underworlds,” Mannion went on, citing the WTFilms-sold “The Eavesdropper” (aka “Scribe”), starring François Cluzet (“The Intouchables”). Screening so many French films, 78 this year, “The Rendez-Vous” is always a voyage of discovery and for me the highlight was “Eavesdropper.” Mannion said.

At the Rendez-Vous, WTFilms confirmed pre-sales on “The Eavesdropper” to Japan (At Entertainment(, the U.K. (Arrow), Latin America (California), Spain (A Contracorriente Films), Italy (Europictures), Scandinavia (Njuta) among major territories.

As for other sales agents, other Rendez-Vous attendees spoke well of Indie Sales’ “Corporate,” from freshman Nicolas Silhol, a big company-set psychological drama inspired by the rash of suicides at French telecom Orange.

The market screening of Lucas Belvaux’s “This is Our Land,” about a far-right local election candidate, was jam-packed; Le Pacte is in negotiations with several distributors. Starring Cannes best actress winner Emilie Dequenne (“Rosetta”), the drama has been catapulted into a broader limelight by accusations by real far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen, president of France’s National Front, that the movie was a caricature financed by France’s Socialist Party to discredit her.

Gaumont expects to close a flurry of sales at Berlin on physical therapy center-set “Step by Step,” yet another debut, from Fabien Marsaud and Mehdi Idir, which sparked strong buzz at the Rendez-Vous.

Launched by Daniel Toscan du Plantier, the UniFrance Rendez-Vous with French Cinema in Paris remains the biggest of UniFrance market and one of the most popular of markets for foreign distributors in the whole year.

“The timing is perfect. The Rendez-Vous is a pre-market. It means that international distributors, who have so many film see and not only French films, can see a lot of French films before reaching Berlin.” said Francois Truffart, artistic director of the COLCOA French Film Festival, adding that January and February is when  saes agents can reveal their sales slate of projects for the whole year.

Primarily a market, the Rendez-Vous also includes a now traditional presentation of French export stats and a industry panel.

Box office for French film exports plunged 63% last year, compared to 2015, to €230 million ($240.4 million) off 234 million ticket sales, down 69%, as no new English-language French movie caught fire in either the U.S. or China, according to provisional 2016 figures announced by French export org UniFrance Friday.

That has a simple explanation. “We have become accustomed to the exceptional films like ‘Lucy’ and ‘Taken’ making 20 million-30 million admissions,” and that is not normal,” said Gilles Renouard, Unifrance deputy director.

Already, export figures are bouncing back. Sold by SND, Omar Sy dramedy-melodrama “Two Is Family” has already scored $1.6 million in Germany for Tobis – more in just one week from a Jan. 6 bow this year than any but two of France’s export titles in all of 2016 from the whole of international.

Producers and sales agents are more concerned about the longterm fundamentals of the export business.

There, digital distribution looks to play an ever larger role. Otherwise, France’s metrics for 2016 were rarely spectacular. Domestic box office, at 213 million tickets sold, was the second best result in modern times.

Total eligible foreign spend under France’s tax rebate for international shoots tripled in 2016 to €152 million ($160 million), with a further rise predicted this year.

“I’m struck by the resilience of French cinema going,’ said Truffart.

But declining investment on films from pay TV operator Canal Plus and digital disruption is questioning traditional financing models and budgets.

“Business is changing a lot. All bets are off, in a way. It’s more difficult to know what will work our not. So people are open to taking more risks again,” said Gregory Chambet, at WTFilms.

During the Rendez-Vous, UniFrance also hosted a panel about the prospects for the distribution of independent films in the world which brought together Jean Labadie from Le Pacte, Eric Lagesse from Pyramide International, Antonio Medici at Bim Distribuzione and American film critic and screenwriter Jordan Mintzer.

The distribution of pure-play arthouse films in theaters has become very tough, even in major markets like the U.S. Jordan Mintzer, a Paris-based American film critic and screenwriter, said two of the reasons for these difficulties in distributing foreign-language in the States were the penury of arthouse theaters across the country and the aging of foreign-language audiences.

As for digital distribution, Mintzer said even platforms like Netflix and Amazon were mainly interested in bigger independent films with high-profile filmmakers and stars attached. “Even Amazon is looking for big indies with budgets between $10 to 20 million,” said Mintzer, who recently wrapped the production of Matt Porterfield’s “Sollers Point.”

In Italy as well, the distribution of independent cinema is a big challenge, said Antonio Medici, head of distribution at BIM.

Medici said the Italian box office has been stable with around 100 million tickets sold in each 2015 and 2016, but there were 200 more films produced in 2016, compared with 2015. “If you do the maths, you understand how many movies bombed. That simply means we can’t go on distributing 25 films per year,” said Medici, who noted that BIM now handles 15 films per year.

Labadie and Lagesse, who are two veteran French distributors of arthouse films, said the local market was highly competitive due to whooping volume of films released in theaters (estimated at 691 titles in 2016), but both contended the country’s wide network of arthouse theaters which allow for a vigorous box office and a diversity of movies released.

Labadie, who distributed this year’s Cannes Palme d’Or “I, Daniel Blake” in France, argued a prize at a major festivals like Cannes, Berlin, Venise and to some extent Locarno marked a key step to boost the theatrical potential a film.