Paris-based Indie Sales has swooped on Yolande Zauberman’s “M,” which on Saturday night won Locarno’s Special Jury Prize, essentially its runners-up plaudit, making it the top prize winning movie from a woman at this year’s Swiss festival, the biggest film event in Europe between Cannes and Venice.
“M” also took Locarno’s Premio l’Ambiente à Qualité di Vita, awarded by its youth jury. The international sales rights deal was struck Saturday in Locarno. New Story will release “M” in cinema theaters in France first semester of 2019.
Produced by Charles Gillibert for CG Cinema and Fabrice Biglio and Zauberman for Phobics Films, “M” marks a winning first entry into international documentary feature production by CG Cinema, a company best known for producing high-profile French fiction auteurs Olivier Assayas (“Non Fiction,” “Personal Shopper”), Mia Hansen-Love (“Things to Come,” “Eden”) and Deniz Gamze (“Mustang,” “Kings”).
Director Zauberman has had a highly impressive career in both documentary and fiction features, “Ivan & Abraham“ playing in Cannes Directors’ Fortnight, “Paradise Now – Journal d’une femme en crise,” in Berlin Forum. “M” returns Zauberman to the Middle East after her exploration of the religious gulf in Israel, even among its supposedly liberal classes, in Venice Horizons entry “Would You Have Sex with an Arab?”
The “M” of the title is Menahem Lang, who introduces the spectator to his home town, Bneï Brak, just outside Tel Aviv and the world capital of the Haredim and its ultra-Orthodox Judaism. As a child, Lang was celebrated for his kindness, his commitment to the Talmud school and a golden voice, becoming a renowned performer of liturgical chants, the film’s synopsis runs.
But he was also raped systematically by religious elders. He left Bneï Brak at the age of 20 to campaign to expose the pedophilia in his community. Now 35, a cantor, but still traumatized, in “M,” which is spoken in Yiddish, he returns to a city that he in many ways still loves, driving around Bneï Brek, often at night, to confront some of his rapists, find fellow victims of pedophilia – which seems all too easy – and ask why the ultra-Orthodox community remains so passive in cracking down on these crimes. It is a large question indeed.
A documentary in a Locarno main International Competition with new movies by Radu Muntean, Dominga Sotomayor and Hong Sangsoo, all of which went on to win major prizes, “M” never attracted the attention of these better-known auteurs.
But, described by its producers as an “unknown tale of resilience,” it won high praise from the critics who caught it, for Zauberman’s daring penetration of a closed community, the scale of the documentary’s exposé, Lang’s large in-front-of-camera charisma and its portrayal of a still rawly painful personal journey towards understanding and some kind of reconciliation with his past and his estranged family.
“We are thrilled to team up with Indie Sales to launch the powerful ‘M,’ CG Cinema’s first international documentary production, by the acclaimed documentary filmmaker Yolande Zauberman,” said Gillibert.
“We are proud to represent ‘M’ and work with a director such as Yolande Zauberman as well as teaming up with CG Cinema for the first time,” said Simon Gabriele, Indie Sales head of acquisitions.
He added: “‘M’ is a very striking documentary, a deep dive into the ultra-Orthodox community of Bneï Brak in Israel, and a very powerful and universal comment on child abuse. It will definitely resonate strongly with international audiences.”
“M” is currently screening at the Sarajevo Film Festival.