Beleaguered French major Gaumont has seen its sales jump 44% for the first quarter of 2001. This comes as a welcome reprieve for the company, which saw revenues drop 50% in the last quarter of 2000 and 15% for the full year, mostly due to the dismal box office performance of two of its big titles, Vatel and Just Visiting (Les Visiteurs En Amerique).

The company had registered a massive Euros66.7m loss in 2000 (compared to a Euros8.9m profit in 1999), a figure roughly equivalent to the cost of Just Visiting (the US remake of its hugely successful French franchise), which attracted only 1.2 million admissions earlier this year.

The French film group, which has merged its exhibition operations with Pathe's, to form EuroPalaces, has benefited from a strong exhibition market (attendances have soared 24% in France during the first quarter of 2001, to reach nearly 58 million admissions) and from the strong box office performance of Francis Veber's Gaumont-produced title The Closet (Le Placard), which sold 5.2 million tickets earlier this year.

Gaumont, which is now concentrating on its production and distribution activities, was dealt yet another severe blow right after Cannes, when StudioCanal acquired a 49% stake in Legende Entreprises. A long-time Gaumont partner, Legende, which turned out the ill-fated Vatel, also provided Gaumont with a hit title last year, Mathieu Kassovitz's The Crimson Rivers (Les Rivieres Pourpres), which sold 3.3 million tickets. The company, which had been hit by the death of veteran producer Alain Poire, who turned out most of its hit comedies, had already lost another key partner, Luc Besson, who created his own production and distribution outfit, Europa Corp, in association with former Gaumont marketing and distribution executive Pierre-Ange Le Pogam.

Rumours of a sale of the group by Nicolas Seydoux, with Pathe and TF1 lining up as potential suitors, both separately and in tandem, have been plentiful in the industry for the past few months.