China is belatedly scrambling to fill in its post-Lunar New Year screening calendar, announcing Tuesday that it would round out its March offerings with foreign title “Persian Lessons” and a re-release of “Avatar.”
“Avatar” will hit in just three days’ time on March 12. The official screening green light comes so close to the film’s actual re-release date that it appears the DCP hard drives might not even make it to some cinemas in time. Photos circulated on social media showing piles of boxes of them at an express courier awaiting deployment across the country.
While the six-day Chinese New Year holiday saw a bonanza of seven new releases and sales of a record-breaking $1.2 billion, the lineup in their wake has been relatively empty. The lack of fresh competition so far hasn’t been much of a boon to Hollywood: Both Warner Bros.’ “Tom and Jerry” and Disney’s “Raya and the Last Dragon” failed in recent weeks to spark the same enthusiasm among viewers turned out in droves for local hits like “Hi, Mom” and “Detective Chinatown 3.”
“Avatar” will be only the third Hollywood film to hit the world’s largest film market so far this year. The James Cameron-directed spectacle grossed a massive $203 million in China back in 2010, a time when the country had far fewer screens and thus fewer box office hauls of that size. China was its largest overseas market at the time by a margin of tens of millions.
“Persian Lessons” will premiere March 19, when it will go up against local comedy “Overall Planning” and the Chadwick Boseman-starring actioner “21 Bridges.” It was acquired for China by Infotainment China Media.
The touching Holocaust-set drama “Persian Lessons” premiered in the Berlinale Special section last year. Directed by Vadim Perelman (“House of Sand and Fog”), it stars Nahuel Perez Biscayart as a Belgian Jew who pretends to be Persian in order to evade being shot by a Nazi firing squad. His lie becomes ever more complicated when he is subsequently ordered to give Farsi lessons to the head of the concentration camp where he is taken, despite not speaking the language. A tear-jerking drama with unexpected comedic moments that explores themes of loss and historic memory, the film could play well to Chinese viewers’ taste for emotional fare.
The German-language, Russian-Belarusian production was selected by Belarus as its entry to the upcoming Oscars race, but was pulled from the competition in early January. The Academy deemed that it did not meet the eligibility requirement that residents from the submitting country must make up the majority of the key creative team.
“Persian Lessons” will premiere in the U.S. next year via Cohen Media Group, and in all major European territories in the first quarter of this year. It is set to release in Taiwan on March 26.
Watch the trailer for the film below.