Dany Boon’s “La Ch’tite Famille,” Laurent Tirard’s “Return of the Hero” and Philippe le Guay’s “Normandie Nue” feature at the 20th UniFrance Rendez-Vous With French Cinema, which runs Jan. 18-22 in the lap-of-luxury at Paris’ InterContinental Le Grand Hotel.
“In all honesty, this looks like a good year in terms of quality of titles,” said Gilles Renouard, UniFrance co-deputy director.
On paper at least, that can be put down to two factors at least: the strength in depth and, crucially, breadth of France’s comedy offering at the Rendez-Vous, and a clutch of movies which showcase some of France’s finest actors: Vincent Lindon (“The Apparition”), Daniel Auteuil (“Le Brio”) and Karin Viard (“Jealous”) are just three. Following, 10 takes – and one big question raised – by this year’s edition:
1. BOON, BUT MUCH MORE
“The Rendez-Vous is a great place to catch comedies, which France does very well,” Renouard said. This year’s lineup, on paper at least, is particularly strong. Reprising the themes, though not characters, of “Welcome to the Sticks,” “La Ch’tite Famille” marks Boon’s second comedy in just 12 months. Sneak peeked at 2016’s Rendez-Vous, Boon’s “R.A.I.D” went on to become the highest-grossing French film in France of 2017. In “La Ch’tite Famille,” which already sports a well-received trailer, Boon plays the male member of a Paris uber-chic interior designer IT couple who is knocked over by a car and reverts, disastrously, to his (supposedly) uncouth Deep North Ch’tite childhood self, just in the run-up to a career make-or-break exhibition. In “Normandie Nue,” a kind of collective French cousin of “The Full Monty,” egged on by their mayor (François Cluzet “The Intouchables”), a village protests its decline staging a mass naked photo-shoot on the local highway. Set against the Napoleonic Wars, “Return of the Hero” pits Academy Award winner Jean Dujardin (“The Artist”) against nominee Melanie Laurent (“Inglourious Basterds”) in a war-of-the-sexes battle of wits between the swaggering false hero Captain Neuville and Elizabeth, his fiancee’s sister, who attempts to expose him as a bounder and fraud. Further candidates as Rendez-Vous comedy hits abound, such as EuropaCorp’s mid-life crisis caper “I Feel Better,” from Jean-Pierre Ameris (“Romantics Anonymous”), starring Eric Elmosnino (“Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life”); and “Let the Girls Play,” Indie Sales’ feminist soccer comedy from first-timer Julien Hallard. As multiple major territories suggest mainstream comedy fatigue – Italy, Brazil, for example – what’s key at the Rendez-Vous is not just the number of potentially strong titles but their breadth, from fish-out-of-water “Ch’tite,” to “Normadie’s Nue’s” socially-minded but light-hearted comedy to “Hero,” a classic screwball farce.
2. FRENCH BOX OFFICE BOUNCES BACK OVERSEAS, BUT BY HOW MUCH?
Call it the new China syndrome. Going forward, box office for a movie and even a whole country’s national output, will be increasingly decided by takings in China. 2017 looks like a case in point. The $61 million earned by Luc Besson’s “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” in China was not enough to save the film or the franchise. But it should do wonders for cumulative box office abroad for French films in 2017. “Valerian’s” around €170 million ($200 million) outside France isn’t in the same league as 2014’s “Lucy” (€302.8 million: $420 million, by then exchange rates) or even 2015’s “Taken 3” (€261.7 million: $287.3 million), movies which powered French cinema outside France to its second and third best years in history. But, even on its own, “Valerian” total overseas B.O. trawl is getting on for French cinema’s total international gross of €257.5 million ($303.8 million) in 2016. Adding weightily to 2017 international B.O., from very late 2016, Gaumont animated feature “Ballerina” (“Leap!”), a minority French co-production, danced its way to about $106 million worldwide, $91.5 million outside France.
So 2017 results should end up as some kind of middling year, below the Olympian heights of 2012, 2015 and 2016, but safely above 2016’s modern-day trough of 40.7 million admissions. Announced Friday, the 63.9 million total tickets sold on French films from France’s top 10 sales companies anticipate that result.
3. MEN: THE CONVERSION
The number of movies directed by women is down from 28 to 14, though two of the most notable debuts featured in Paris are directed by women: Sofia Djama’s Bac Films sold “The Blessed,” a generation gulf family drama set in 2008 Algiers; Marine Francen’s “The Sower,” a delicate love story and brutal tale of repression, survival and yearning for liberty, set from 1852 in lovely Alpine hills. But feminism isn’t just about women. At the 2017 Paris Rendez-Vous, there are in fact more movies made by men about women than by women about women. Some of the former have even come in for praise, such as Fabien Gorjeart’s comedy “Diane has the Right Shape,” where surrogate motherhood proves a maturing experience for the directionless Diane; David and Stephane Foenkinos’ “Jealous,” their follow-up to “Delicacy”; the 1721 court of Louis XV-set “The Royal Exchange,” in which two young girls, far more resolute than their feckless spouses, yet prove pitiful pawns in France’s inhuman realpolitik; and audience pleaser “So Help Me God,” from The Bureau Sales, a docu-feature portrait of a remarkable real-life Brussels examining magistrate, rave reviewed by some critics who caught it at September’s San Sebastián.
4. FRENCH FILM REVENUES ABROAD: A BIG QUESTION
UniFrance will unveil preliminary exports stats – box office and admissions abroad for French films in 2017 at a now traditional Paris Rendez-Vous press conference, held Friday Jan. 19. Just what strength in depth they suggest, and how much they haul French cinema back to box office of around €400 million ($470 million) in international territories, is no academic matter.
From the second half of last decade, as Hollywood moved out of thoughtful or ambitious mid to low-mid-budget quality movies made for adults, France has attempted to move in. That has yielded mixed results. France won an Oscar with “The Artist,” saw “The Intouchables” break out to $426 million worldwide. But a welter of English-language movies underperformed or simply crashed at the box office.
Published in November, a CNC report shows French sales company revenues (in other words, returns from sales deals, often struck in 2014 or 2015, and foreign investment in French co-productions) plunging to €393.3 million ($464.0) in 2016, 16.3% down vs. 2015 and 25.5 % under 2012’s all-time highpoint of €528.1 million ($623.0 million). On Jan. 1 this year, U.S. data service comScore showed planet-wide box office increasing $1.1 billion in 2017 to $39.9 billion, with international growing $1.4 billion to $28.8 billion. But as Variety pointed out, stripping China out of international, and both the international and overall performances would have been negative.
The question begged by French box office export figures for 2016 and 2017 is whether they are merely blips in an expansive narrative or a sign of the longterm, if gradual, erosion of movies as the world’s prime entertainment phenomenon, a trend affecting Hollywood and European production alike.
5. BINOCHE, AUTEUIL, LINDON, DUJARDIN
It may be appropriate that an actress – Juliette Binoche – will receive this year’s French Cinema Award from UniFrance. If the Rendez-Vous has a common theme this year, at least in some of its highest-profile movies, now clocking up sales abroad, it may be as a showcase for some of the finest actors in France.
Praised by a student as a superb teacher, in Yvan Attal’s “Le Brio,” Daniel Auteuil, buried under an academic’s glasses, blinks like an embarrassed owl. Bigoted by loneliness, it has been years since he has received such a show of affection. In Xavier Giannoli’s “The Apparition,” one of the best selling of titles at the Rendez-vous, Vincent Lindon embodies a Middle East war correspondent who has been stunned and diminished by his photographer’s death. He carries a sense of near physical deflation through the film’s early scenes, like a cross. At press time, Dujardin’s turn in “Return of the Hero” as a swaggering imposter of a Napoleonic War hero has still to be seen. But it could prove another Rendezvous highlight.
6. GENRE HOPES
At least three French genre movies should be on many buyers’ radar at the 2017 Rendez-Vous: “Money’s Money,” where Gela Babluani, from early reviews at least, reportedly repeats the achievement of “13 Tzameti” of directing a compulsive continually gripping thriller; also from Kinology, “Incident in a Ghost Land,” a dark haunted-house shocker, from “Martyrs” director Pascal Laugier; Playtime’s “Black Tide,” with Erick Zonca (“The Dreamlife of Angels”) directing Vincent Cassel, Romain Duris, Sandrine Kimberlain in a disappeared teen psychological thriller.
“We are living in a Golden Age of European animation,” director Tomm Moore (“The Secret of Kells”) declared at the first European Animation Awards, held Dec. 8 in Lille. If so, France, whose production took 70% of the film prizes that night, is one of its drivers. At least one animation movie will be on display in Paris, the gritty YA social fantasy “Mutafukaz,” from Ankama, set in a deadbeats’ metropolis which stands as an allegory for the darker parts of Los Angeles. It proved a big hit at Sitges is now rolling out foreign sales.
8. 2018’S PROMISE
The heart of the Rendezvous is its screenings. But French sales agents also huddle with distributors to talk up their 2018 releases. In another hallowed practice, UniFrance will screen a promo of some new movies going down in France this year. Beyond RDV screeners, films it might feature: “Anna,” with Luc Besson, in “Nikita”/“Leon” mode; Rachid Bouchareb’s “Belleville Cop,” a Miami-set buddy action comedy with Omar Sy; Antinin Baudry’s “Le Chant du Loup,” a large canvas French nuclear sub thriller from Pathé and Les Production du Trésor; “The Sisters Brothers,” Jacques Audiard’s darkly comic Western, with Joaquin Phoenix, John C. Reilly and Jake Gyllenhaal; Asghar Farhadi’s Spain-set “Everybody Knows,” with Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem; “High Life,” Claire Denis’ English-language debut, a sci-fi drama-thriller with Robert Pattinson and Juliette Binoche. A rich line-up.
9. OPENER AND NEW SALES COMPANIES
The Rendez-Vous opens Jan. 18 with Jean Becker’s “The Red Collar,” a WWI aftermath drama showing the impact of war, and culture, on two different men, one a judge (Cluzet) sent to sentence another, a war hero (Nicolas Duvauchelle), for insubordination. “The Red Collar” is one of two movies on the first movie sales slate of France TV Distribution, the sales arm of pubcaster France Televisions, which is moving back into selling its film productions abroad. As Renouard pointed out, other companies are also entering international sales. French telecom giant Orange will also present its new sales operation at the Rendez-Vous, selling the Sophie Marceau-directed sorority comedy “Mrs Mills.” Shellac has opened a niche sales operation in Paris. Overseas theatrical markets for French films may be experiencing long-term structural contraction. But they still represent an opportunity for companies seeking to diversify from core business.
10. OTHER BUZZ TITLES
Beyond titles mentioned above, Constantin Popescu’s “Pororoca,” sold by Wide, gleaned great reviews, a flurry of first sales, and a prize at September’s San Sebastian Festival. Given the overseas sales of boy and dog “Belle and Sebastian’s” first two movie installments, there will be large interest in the third, “Belle and Sebastian, Friends for Life,” from actor-turned-director Clovis Cornillac. For those who haven’t yet caught it, Gaumont’s “See You Up There” – a big period piece set against France’s post-WWI plunge into the Roaring Twenties and racketeering – has garnered upbeat reviews and sales; in extreme sports cinema, Serge Hazanavicius’ “To the Top” is something of a breakthrough, a big mountain ski-snowboarding spectacle but also a fiction film with engaging turns by French stars Kev Adams, Vincent Elbaz, and Bérénice Bejo. Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s immigration tale, “A Season in France,” has run up useful sales for MK2. World-premiering at Namur, Samuel Tilman’s debut “The Benefit of the Doubt” has won praise as a tightly-wound homicide suspect thriller which teases doubt about a school teacher’s innocence until its very end.
FRENCH FILMS’ CUMULATIVE OVERSEAS BOX OFFICE, ADMISSIONS, 2007-16
2007: €354.0 million ($417.6 million); 71.7 million
2008: €416.5 million ($491.3 million); 83.0 million
2009: €350.8 million ($413.8 million); 67.2 million
2010: €339.7 million ($400.7 million); 60.0 million
2011: €439.5 million ($518.5 million); 74.3 million
2012: €889.6 million ($1.049.5 billion); 144.1 million
2013: €300.8 million; ($354.9 million); 50.8 million
2014: €685.2 million; ($808.3 million); 120.2 million
2015: €624.1 million; ($736.3 million); 111.4 million
2016: €257.5 million ($303.8 million); 40.7 million
Source: CNC, November 2017, €1 = $1.1797