Memento Distribution aiming for one million entries for Iranian director Asghar Farhadi’s Berlin Golden Bear winner capturing marital breakdownin modern-day Iran.

Nader & Simin, A Separation is proving to be a breakout auteur hit in France, where it has drawn close to 400,000 spectators in its first three weeks on release and retained a place in a box-office Top Ten dominated by the likes of Kung Fu Panda, X-men: First Class and Transformers 3.

“Yes, it’s a surprise but a nice surprise,” says Memento Films co-head Alexandre Mallet-Guy, who oversaw the French release under the Memento Films Distribution banner.

“It’s unusual for an Iranian film to do this well but I think it has done so because it’s a film with universal appeal. It touches on religion, life in a couple, family. Everyone can relate to these issues, whether they’re in Iran, France, Germany or Britain.”

A Separation originally opened on June 8 on 105 screens but due to demand its release has expanded by  some 50 prints a week ever since. Memento widened the release to 240 copies on Wednesday (June 27), for its fourth week in cinemas.

“Theatres have been packed out,” comments Mallet-Guy. “Exhibitors who originally booked the film for three weeks don’t want to give their print back.”

Beyond the film’s universal appeal, Mallet-Guy also credits the support of the local media, which has been positively eulogistic, as a major factor in the feature’s success.

He says that Memento began the promotional campaign for A Separation as early as April to avoid the pre and post Cannes scrum.

“We brought the director and actress Leila Hatami over mid-April and then again just before the release,” he says.

Because the actress was already known in France and speaks French, Memento was able to secure slots on evening news bulletins as well as mainstream programmes such as Canal Plus’ Le Grand Journal.  

Farhadi also gave a masterclass in Paris at a big FNAC store in Paris, and toured the country with Hatami for a series of pre-premieres.

“Ahead of the release we did a big advertising campaign – 1,500 posters in total – it was a bit of a risk but it paid off,” adds Mallet-Guy.

With exactly 384 113 entries in three weeks, according to CBO box office, the film has eclipsed Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s 2001 picture Kandahar, which was previously the most successful Iranian film at the box office In France with some 250,000 admissions.

Respected French film industry trade Ecran Total has predicted the film will eventually achieve some 800,000 entries. Mallet-Guy is hoping it will go beyond that.

“Having started off strongly in Paris, buzz surrounding the film has shifted to the provinces. Paris initially accounted for 50 percent of the entries, now it’s 30 percent,” he says. “I can see the film building steadily over the summer in the provinces to give us a final tally over the 800,000 mark, perhaps closer to one million.”

The picture’s success in France bodes well for its imminent release in a slew of other territories across Europe this summer.

Cinéart has already opened it in Benelux where it has achieved a respectable 15,000 entries for the territory. Artificial Eye opens the film on 24 prints on Friday and Germany’s Alamode will release the picture on 50 prints on July 14.