Handling more films than any other international sales agent at this year’s Locarno Festival, Europe’s biggest mid-summer film event, Brussels-based Be For Films will represent new films by Bettina Oberli, one of Switzerland’s most popular cineasts, Canadian Philippe Lesage’s return to A-fest international competition after debut “The Demons” dazzled at San Sebastian, and Antoine Russbach’s first feature, the highest-profile Swiss debut this year at the Swiss festival.
The two Swiss titles are for “no special reason,” said Be For Films Pamela Leu, who set up the sales company with pan-European sales-financing-production company Playtime.
But Leu recognized that Be For Films has been approached by Swiss producers since the success of Lisa Brühlmann’s “Blue My Mind,”which sold 15 territories off a San Sebastian Festival world premiere last year.
Only about half Be For Films’ titles are Belgian, and often minority co-productions. Reteaming Lesage with producer Galilé Marion-Gauvin at Montreal’s Unité Centrale, Lesage’s new movie, “Genesis,” is 100% Quebecois, for example. But Be For Films’ strong Locarno showing may also reflects Belgium’s status as one of French-language Swiss producers’ countries of choice for international co-production, bringing not only succulent tax breaks to the table but also the opportunity to work with performers who are name actors on the international stage.
Produced by top Swiss outfit Rita Productions and France’s Silex Films, and co-produced by Belgium’s Versus Production, Oberli’s new film, “With the Wind,” is a case in point, starring France’s Melanie Thierry, lead in Bertrand Tavernier’s “Princess of Montpensier,” co-star of Terry Gilliam’s “The Zero Theorem,” and nominated for a supporting actress Cesar Award for her performance in Cannes Un Certain Regard player “The Dancer.”
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Though Oberli’s first film in French, it bears many of her hallmarks: Rural settings, and events which turn characters staid or settled lives upside down. Here, Thierry plays Pauline, who has spent 15 years with her partner Alex (Pierre Deladonchamps, “Stranger by the Lake”) turning her family farm in the remote Jura mountains into a near self-sustainable unit. The arrival of Samuel, world-shuttling turbine energy engineer (Nuno Lopes, “Saint George”), makes Pauline question whether she has made a life choice without knowing well enough other options.
From “Late Bloomers,” one of Switzerland’s biggest domestic box office hits ever, through “Lovely Louise,” a well-received festival hit, Oberli has carved out a reputation for creating crowd pleasers. Selection for Locarno’s Piazza Grande suggests the festival sees this as another potential hit. The film’s subject, and co-writing by Antoine Jaccoud, Ursula Meir’s longterm co-writer, with a screenplay contribution by “Boyhood’s” Celine Sciamma, marks a move from popular dramedies into a more obviously auteurist mode.
Be For Films’ most recent acquisition, “With the Wind” was on its radar before selection for Locarno. “We knew it would land somewhere on the summer/fall festival circuit. Melanie Thierry is astonishing, natural and pure beauty in her role,” Leu enthused.
Screening in Cineasts of the Present, Russbach’s debut stars Belgium’s Olivier Gourmet, who has appeared in every film by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne from 1996’s “La Promesse,” winning a Cannes best actor award for 2002’s “The Son.”
In “Those Who Work,” Gourmet plays Frank, a 50-something fixer for a company which hires cargo ships, going to any length to get their goods to Europe on time. Taking a decision of deeply shocking expediency, Frank is summarily sacked.
“Those Who Work” begins as a psychological study of a man whose desperate need for respect is slaked by self-sacrificingly abandoning any moral conscience to serves his shipping company. As Frank reacts to the hypocrisy of the company he’s given his life, “Those Who work” broadens into a social issue drama of Europe’s convenient amnesia about the foundations – corruption, exploitation and even worse – of its comfortable consumer existence. The question is whether Frank can change course, or Europe at large.
“Those Who Work” is produced by Switzerland’s Box Productions and Belgium’s Novak Productions.
Leu met Russbach a few years ago at a pitching session at the Rotterdam Festival, thought Russbach a “clever director, with strong and delicate story telling.” “When the script was ready, we jumped on board,” she added, noting this is the first time Be For Films has worked with Elena Tatti and Elodie Brunner at Switzerland’s Box Productions.
Launched by Leu at the 2014 Cannes Festival, and winner last year of a Cannes Caméra d’Or for best first feature with “Jeune Femme,” Be For Films has as one of its strategic aims the establishment of strong and long-lasting business relationships with producers and talents.
That’s beginning to happen. World premiering in competition at San Sebastian, Quebecois Philippe Lesage’s “The Demons,” handled by Be For Films, was declared by Variety’s Guy Lodge to be a “daring, exquisite study of agitated child psychology that marks Philippe Lesage as a name to watch.” Aimed at broader audiences, but again channelling Ledsage own life in the third part of a semi autobiographical triptych, “Genesis” turns on “the birth of amorous desire, our need to love and be loved, the force of desire’s drive, and a society which obstructs, patrols and looks to punish the spirit of our passions,” Lesage has said.
Set at an elite Quebecois boarding school and the local bars and parks, “Genesis,” like “The Demons,” still experiments with structure, however, linking two stories in which an outgoing half-brother, discovering his homosexuality, and half-sister, belittled by two lovers, are dealt brutal correctives in first love; a coda, set at a summer camp, marks the innocent joy of near puppy passion. Starring are three young actors who have been noted for outstanding performances – Théodore Pellerin (“Chien de garde”), France’s Noée Abita (“Ava”) and “Demons’” lead Edouard Tremblay-Grenier.
“We were hooked by the director’s talent, decided to work closer, step-by-step, from a treatment written three years ago until now,” Leu commented.
Of films at Locarno, Be For Films has also handled “Keeper,” from Belgium’s Guillaume Senez, and “Mister Universo,” from the directorial duo formed by Italy’s Tizza Covi and Austria’s Rainer Frimel. “We are excited this year again,” Leu said.
Pictured: Philippe Lesage, Bettina Oberli, Antoine Russbach.