According to Unifrance, France's film export body, French films account for an estimated 3 million admissions in the UK, an impressive 2% of the market. This was led by 2007's Edith Piaf biopic La Vie En Rose, directed by Olivier Dahan, which took $3.3m in the territory, while Guillaume Canet's thriller Tell No One generated $2.3m.
"Last year was an exception," says Hugo Grumbar, president of distribution at Icon Film Distribution (IFD) which handled La Vie En Rose. "Tell No One and La Vie have both given the graph a bit of a spike, more so than it normally would have done. With the amount of films distributors are releasing every Friday, combined with varied audience tastes and trends, to get any foreign-language film out there is always difficult when the audience doesn't speak the language."
One way to tackle this is to disguise the fact the film is French language in the campaign, a tactic presently being used by Revolver Entertainment in the UK trailer and poster for Female Agents, a Second World War drama starring Sophie Marceau.
"Ultimately our job as distributors is to attract as broad an audience as possible to a film in our quest to make it a success," says Justin Marciano, managing director at Revolver Entertainment, which used a similar ploy for Tell No One. "I don't see any advantage in highlighting a film is in a foreign language if I believe that will actually put up a barrier to even one person changing their mind and not seeing it.
"If we'd marketed Tell No One as a great French thriller, a lot of people wouldn't have gone to see it. By instead creating a trailer which feels more international than French, we got a reaction that made people want to see it."
"Why advertise it's in a foreign language if you have very strong genre elements'" adds Icon's Grumbar. Icon has pitched Priceless, a French film starring Audrey Tautou, as a romantic comedy. It has grossed $245,658 from 61 screens in its opening this weekend. Just 17 of those screens were in London.
"We gambled that if we played this up as a strong romantic comedy, people wouldn't be disappointed," Grumbar explains. "I don't want to mis-sell something completely - I wouldn't feel comfortable selling it like this to audience members if I didn't think it was any good. I just believe elements and values within this film were so strong, and so appealing to such a wide audience that we thought we had to get the whole language element out of the way and sweep it under the sofa and present the more interesting, universal themes of the film."
To help launch French films to a mainstream audience, distributors take advantage of the UK's 400,000-plus ex-pat French community, of which nearly 300,000 are in London. Female Agents had a gala screening at the Cine Lumiere in London while Priceless has been targeted in areas such as South Kensington, where the Lycee Francais Charles de Gaulle is located, and to French students at London universities.
"For a film like Female Agents, our number-one interest in terms of laying the foundation is what we consider to be the regular consumer of specialist film," says Marciano. "People who frequent places where the film is playing, like The Gate cinema in Notting Hill, are our number-one target. Within that, we then target the ex-pats. We have to get that initial audience in to have the building blocks."
This summer also sees the release of French hit Couscous from Artificial Eye (June 20), Sandrine Bonnaire's documentary Elle S'Appelle Sabine from ICA (June 20), the rom-com London Mon Amour from Pathe UK (July 4), Paris from Optimum (July 25) and Francois Ozon's English-language Angel from Lionsgate UK (August 29).
But it is more temporary flirtation than lasting love affair, according to Grumbar. "A couple of years ago we had an Asian invasion with films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Hero, House Of Flying Daggers and Oldboy all dotting the charts. But recently we haven't seen so much from that part of the world," he says.
"People get fatigued - it's the same with any genre film, whether it be foreign language or gruesome horror. It's all cyclical and they all come back again. One foreign-language film doesn't play better than another - it simply comes down to how good the film is itself and the critics' reaction to the film."
|INTERNATIONAL MARKET FOR SELECTED FRENCH FILMS, 2007|
|Tell No One||$23.8m||$2.3m||-||-||-||$0.3m||-||Released|
|My Best Friend||$7.6m||$0.7m||$0.48m||$0.39m||$2.1m||$0.54m||Released||$1.4m|
|2 Days In Paris*||$2.1m||$1.2m||$2.5m||$1m||$0.26m||$1.7m||Released||$4.4m|
|The Science Of Sleep||$4.3m||$1.2m||$0.75m||$0.22m||$0.83m||$0.27m||$0.56m||$4.7m|
|La Vie En Rose||$42.6m||$3.3m||$4.9m||$1.8m||$1.5m||$2.5m||$3m||$10.3m|