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UniFrance Rendez-Vous: Studiocanal Rolls Out ‘Return of the Hero,’ with Jean Dujardin and Melanie Laurent, and ‘Jealous,’  with Karin Viard (EXCLUSIVE)

European film-TV powerhouse prepares movies by Pierre Schoeller, Kheiron, Gilles Lellouche for 2018 release

PARIS — European film-TV powerhouse Studiocanal has rolled out robust sales on Laurent Tirard’s anticipated “Return of the Hero,” starring Academy Award winner Jean Dujardin (“The Artist”) and nominee Melanie Laurent (“Inglourious Basterds”), one of the most anticipated of market debuts at this week’s UniFrance Rendez-Vous in Paris.

Also clinching international deals on “Jealous,” uniting Karin Viard, the most popular actress in France, and directors David and Stéphane Foenkinos (“Delicacy”), “Return of the Hero” and “Jealous” will screen in Paris as Studiocanal celebrates 2017 as its best year in over a decade at the French box office where it ranked No. 1 among French distributors – for only the third time in its history – and No. 4 overall – after Disney, UPI and Fox – punching 15.5 million admissions. The last time that Studiocanal topped French distributors charts was 2006. Studiocanal’s top three releases in 2017 are currently all French: “alibi.com,” (3.6 million), “Marry Me, Dude” (2.5 million) and “School of Life” (1.9 million).

Set in 1809, and part classic screwball comedy, part Jane Austen, part a tribute to classic French titles such as Jean-Paul Belmondo’s movies with Philippe de Broca, “Return of the Hero” is a war-of-the-sexes battle pitting the swaggering Captain Neuville (Dujardin), a supposed Napoleonic War hero, against Elizabeth (Laurent), a prim, honest daughter of the local landed gentry who seeks to expose him as a liar, coward, imposter and above all philanderer, while increasingly feeling attracted to the Captain.

Launched at the American Film Market, where a promo helped pre-sell multiple territories, said Anne Cherel, Studiocanal head of international sales, current movies, “Return of the Hero” has clinched pre-sales in Japan (Shochiku) and China (Iqiy, a VOD player that also works in theatrical,) and Colombia (CineColombia, which has seen upbeat results with French movies, “La Famille Belier” and “Mr. Stein Goes Online”).

Benelux (Cinéart), Taiwan (Catchplay, a key Studiocanal partner in Asia), Greece (Feelgood), Portugal (Pris), Lebanon  and Gulf States (Selim Ramia), and much of Eastern Europe have also closed, KinoSwiat taking Polish pay TV rights, Prorom acquiring Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania, and Blitz closing on former-Yugoslavia.

Exponauta, which bought “Return of the Hero” for CIS territories, will send a 10-strong team to the UniFrance Rendez-Vous screening. Brazil’s Mares Filmes and Argentina’s CDI have teamed to buy Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay and Brazil.

Studiocanal has the option of direct distribution in U.K., Germany/Austria, and Australia/New Zealand.

“‘Return of the Hero’ is pure comedy, with great actors, great humor, and a strong concept which makes it easy to create a prom, and for distributors to position and market the film, and creates large remake potential,” Cherel said.

Cherel added: “Though universal in its theme, it is also very French, beginning with Jean Dujardin and the chateau-setting, and its homage to French classics with Belmondo. The film is also classic in appearance, but modern in its humor and characters, such as Elizabeth.”

Producers retain rights for remakes. But as redos become more popular – Omar Sy’s “Two is Family,” France’s top box office comedy abroad last year, reversioned Eugenio Derbez’s Mexican original, “Instructions Not Included,” for example – sale agents are a natural conduit for remake conversations with distributors who have bought the film, and many third-party companies.

In France, distributed by Studiocanal, “Return of the Hero”  is positioned as a date movie, opening on Feb. 14 on 500 copies. It will world premiere on Saturday, Feb. 20, closing France’s Alpe d’Huez Intl. Comedy Festival, bookending the festival with opener “La Ch’tite Famille,” from Dany Boon, a strong one-two.

Produced by Nicolas and Eric Altmayer at Mandarin Production, launched in Toronto with an international trailer, and then screened at the AFM, “Jealous” has kicked off sales, closing 15 territories. These take in Japan (Kino), China (Iqiy), Spain (A Contracorriente), Benelux (Athena), Switzerland (Frenetic), Taiwan (Moviecloud), Canada’s Axia Films – a big fan of the movie, said Cherel – Portugal (Outsider Films), Turkey (Chantier), Greece (Spentzos) and Lebanon and Gulf States (Selim Ramia).

In “Jealous,” Viard plays a woman in mid-life crisis, a role for which she has drawn some of her strongest reviews, such as for “Polisse” and “My Part of the Pie,” who suddenly conceives a all-consuming envy for her ex-husband, a new teacher at school (Anais Demoustier), her best friend (Xavier Dolan muse Anne Dorval), and above-all her near faultless daughter (newcomer Dara Tombroff). Though it remains a comedy, the jealousy plunges towards borderline pathology.

“‘Jealous’ is a woman’s portrait, an ironic take on a universal flaw, that is very funny and sometimes dark,” Cherel said.

Released by Studiocanal on Nov. 8, “Jealous” has earned a near final box office of 753, 563 admissions (€5.2 million: $6.1 million) in France, “which we’re very happy about,” Cherel commented. More deals will close of the Rendez-Vous, she added.

Studiocanal will also use the UniFrance Rendez-Vous to talk up some of its big upcoming French bows: Pierre Schoeller’s French Revolution-set “One Nation, One King,” a big historical drama budgeted at €16. 9 million ($20 million) with a strong ensemble cast, led by Laurent Lafitte, Louis Garrel and Denis Lavant; “Mauvaises Herbes,” starring Catherine Deneuve and André Dussollier, from Kheiron, whose debut “All Three of Us,” sold a highly creditable 650, 322 tickets (around $5.0 million) in France.

At UniFrance, Studiocanal will also unveil a long promo for “Sink or Swim,” produced by Alain Attal’s Les Productions du Trésor (“Little White Lies”), and actor Gilles Lellouche’s solo feature directorial debut with a star-spangled cast of Mathieu Amalric (“The Grand Budapest Hotel”), Guillaume Canet (“Next Time I’ll Aim For the Heart”) and Virginie Efira (“Blessed Virgin”), in a dramedy about a synchronized male swimming team. The promo, Cherel predicted, will make a big splash.

“Even if we make a lot of international films, French films are part of our DNA. It’s really important to us to support and sell good French films, so the UniFrance Rendez-Vous is a significant market for us,” Cherel concluded.

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