Hot French helmer Cedric Jimenez, whose latest hit movie “The Stronghold” is nominated for seven Cesar awards, is developing “Verde,” an epic adventure drama revolving around the kidnapping of former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt and her campaign manager Clara Rojas, who were held captive in the jungle for seven years.
Inspired by a true story like all of Jimenez’s films, “Verde” opens in 2002, when Betancourt — a high-profile French-Colombian senator who was running for president and had vowed to end political corruption — was brutally kidnapped with her campaign manager, Rojas, by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The pair were held hostage by the rebel group in the hostile jungle for nearly a decade, along with many other victims of Colombia’s civil war.
Jimenez is writing the script for “Verde” with Olivier Demangel, the co-screenwriter of Mati Diop’s Cannes’ grand prize winner “Atlantics” and Jimenez’s upcoming movie “November,” a tense action thriller following a secretive police brigade that tracks down the instigators of the 2015 Paris terror attacks.
Budgeted in the $20 million range, the international project has already been boarded by Studiocanal (“Paddington”) and is being jointly produced by Legende Films’ Alain Goldman, whose credits include Oscar-winning “La Vie en Rose,” as well as Chi-Fou-Mi’s Hugo Selignac, who has delivered a flurry of recent French box office successes like “The Stronghold” which bowed at Cannes, topped Netflix charts, sold more than 2.2 million tickets in French theaters and was shortlisted by France’s Oscar committee. Chi-Fou-Mi Productions is a Mediawan company. Jimenez previously worked with Goldman on “French Connection” starring Jean Dujardin and WW2 thriller “HHhH” with Rosamund Pike, as well as with Selignac on “The Stronghold” and “November.”
“‘Verde’ is a project that I’ve had in my head for a long time, and I’ve read and watched everything I could find about this story,” Jimenez tells Variety.
Citing “Apocalypse Now” and “Midnight Express” as references, Jimenez says “Verde” will be a “film about captivity and resilience, and the inner journey of Ingrid and Clara, what they discovered about themselves while they were prisoners.”
“It was a complete reboot for both of them,” says Jimenez, adding that the movie will be filled with “strong emotions and adventure.” “Being captive in a jungle seems like an oxymoron because it’s so vast, but it’s also a hostile environment where disease is rampant, you’re cut off from the rest of the world and your relationship with nature is exacerbated,” explains Jimenez, who has been inspired by iconic filmmakers such as Francis Ford Coppola, Michael Mann and Henri Verneuil.
Although the movie will be a two-hander headlined by Betancourt and Rojas, Jimenez pointed out that several other characters will have significant roles, including another prisoner, Lucho, and various members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.
“Verde” is in advanced development and is expected to start lensing on location in South America in the fall. Casting is underway.
Goldman said “‘Verde’ touches on intimate yet very universal themes such as motherhood, and it deals with what aspects of our personality are revealed by adversity. After producing Cedric’s English language debut, ‘HHhH,’ I wanted to work with him again on this very ambitious and internationally driven project.”
Selignac says he and Alain “share a desire to produce high-quality films that appeal to a wide audience and are more than just entertaining.” He adds that he was drawn to the project after hearing Jimenez speak about it with stars in his eyes and discovering his “character-driven approach to this survival tale.”
Goldman and Selignac have already agreed to partner up on another film directed by Jimenez, following “Verde.”
“Verde” marks the third collaboration between Studiocanal, Jimenez and Selignac. The company previously handled “The Stronghold” and sold it to Netflix for global rights outside of France where Studiocanal released it in French theaters. Studiocanal is also backing “November,” which is expected to be delivered in the spring. Currently in post, the film boasts stellar performances by Jean Dujardin (“The Artist”), Anais Demoustier (“Alice and The Mayor”) and Sandrine Kiberlain (“In Safe Hands”), among others.