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Cannes: Time in Portrait Snags China Rights to Three Films in Competition (EXCLUSIVE)

Chinese distributor Time in Portrait has snagged China rights to three Cannes Competition titles even before they were chosen to gun for the Palme d’Or: Ken Loach’s “Sorry We Missed You,” Arnaud Desplechin’s “Oh Mercy!” and Elia Suleiman’s “It Must Be Heaven.” The company boarded the films last year when the projects were still at the script stage. France’s Wild Bunch handled the sales.

It’s the second year in a row that Beijing-based Time in Portrait has nabbed China rights to a number of films ahead of their selection to compete in Cannes. Last year, it bought Lee Chang-dong’s “Burning,” Matteo Garrone’s “Dogman,” Eva Husson’s “Girls of the Sun” and Abu Bakr Shawky’s “Yomeddine.”

“We buy some films every year from Cannes, a festival that we attach a lot of importance to,” Time in Portrait general manager Sally Yihua Li told Variety. She added with a laugh,  “we haven’t seen [this year’s] films yet ourselves, so we want to attend the premieres and finally see if they’re appropriate for theatrical distribution in China.”

Founded in 2014, the firm employs fewer than 10 people, but has demonstrated a nose for good content. Last year, while others fought over Palme d’Or winner “Shoplifters” by Hirokazu Kore-eda, Time in Portrait looked ahead and snapped up the China rights to the Japanese director’s next film, “The Truth,” while it was still in embryonic stage. The movie, starring Catherine Deneuve, Juliette Binoche and Ethan Hawke, is a strong candidate to premiere in Venice.

Time in Portrait hopes to move into sales of Chinese films abroad, but has “not yet encountered any that we feel would be appropriate,” Li said.

The company imported the Spanish crime thriller “Invisible Guest” in 2017, which grossed 173 million yuen ($25 million) in China box office — more than six times what it grossed in Spain — as well as the Italian film “Perfect Stranger,” which grossed $8 million last year and was also remade in China as “Kill Mobile,” which hit $93 million.

Cannes titles have done unusually well in the China market this past year, with “Shoplifters” reaching $14 million in the territory and “Capernaum” bringing in $25 million so far after two weeks in theaters, making it the film’s most successful region globally by a long shot.

Li said she regretted losing her chance to bring last year’s Cannes title “Capernaum” to China, as she’d been too emotional to event speak after seeing the film. Other buyers got into a physical fight as they jostled to be the first in the room, she said. “It was really extreme.”

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