Empire Pictures and First Run Features have pacted to buy US rights to Claude Chabrol's popular thriller Merci Pour Le Chocolat which premiered at the Venice Film Festival two years ago and won the Prix Louis Delluc in 2001.

Empire will oversee the film's theatrical release this summer and First Run will handle the home video release in spring 2003. The deal was negotiated by First Run president Seymour Wishman on behalf of the partnership with Florence Stern of sales agent MK2.

Starring Isabelle Huppert and Jacques Dutronc, the film is the story of a concert pianist (Dutronc) and his wife (Huppert) and the teenage girl (Anna Mouglalis) who becomes embroiled in their world.

The film, which is set to open in New York on July 31, marks the latest in a string of buys for new US distributor Empire which is run by Edmondo Schwartz out of New York. Other Empire titles include Patrice Chereau's Intimacy, Bertrand Tavernier's Laissez-Passer, Diane Kurys' Les Enfants Du Siecle and Pascale Bailly's Dieu Est Grand, Je Suis Toute Petite.