'Bonnard, Pierre & Marthe'

Source: Carole Bethuel

‘Bonnard, Pierre & Marthe’

France’s sales companies arrived in Cannes with busy slates, rich with festival titles and market packages. Nearly two weeks on and Screen finds out how business has been for them.

When it comes to French films, buyers in general seem to be both more restrained about rushing to scoop up titles and pay big money up front, yet at the same time are looking for more audacious titles with unique subjects to woo younger audiences. 

“We’re seeing the adrenaline again that’s been missing from the market for awhile,” said Elle Driver’s Adeline Fontan-Tessaur, but added certain territories are struggling more than others to bounce back theatrically. “Europe is back, but South America is more cautious. The Asian market is back – they’re not buying yet like before, but we have the feeling that they’re hopeful and there are small signs that things are starting up again.”

Elle Driver has sold one of the Cannes market’s hottest commodities this year – Pablo Berger’s Special Screening Robot Dreams – across the board including to Neon ahead of the festival. Like other sellers, the company is patiently waiting for the ink to dry on deals that are much slower to close than before, but is already seeing positive returns for their upcoming films from established auteurs including Cedric Kahn’s Making Of… and Sylvain Chomet’s The Magnificent Life of Marcel Pagnol.

Charades’ co-founder Yohann Comte said, “Most of the market is slow. Buyers are waiting for reviews and for the full selection to be completed. They need to study the market. They watch all the films before deciding. They’re definitely more cautious.”

The companies’ French-language festival titles have been selling strong including Kahn’s Directors’ Fortnight opening film The Goldman Case, Mona Achache’s Special Screening title Little Girl Blue starring Marion Cotillard, Kamal Lazraq’s Hounds premiering in Un Certain Regard and Katell Quillévéré’s Along Came Love in Cannes Premiere.

“There is less pre-buying than before, so festivals and markets like Cannes are even more important,” Comte added.

Ongoing sales 

While the Marché du Film closed its doors earlier in the week, sales are ongoing even as the festival heads into its closing weekend, particularly for French-language titles. “Everything takes time, so it’s not over yet,” Orange Studio’s Charlotte Boucon said.

She pointed out the market was heaving with projects this year. “There were a lot of things, so buyers had to prioritise. One client said they had received 138 scripts at the market.

“It takes time to choose. It takes time to negotiate. Everything takes more time.” 

Memento International’s Bonnard, Pierre & Marthe, a Cannes Premiere selection, has also been a hot title, pre-selling globally before Cannes and gaining momentum at the market after strong reviews and early buzz. Directed by Martin Provost, the film stars Cecile de France and Vincent Macaigne.

Bonnard represents French quality at its finest,” suggested Mathieu Delauney, head of international sales at Memento. “It’s a true story with big actors, an established director and a festival selection. Buyers want to see finished films, particularly in Cannes selections.” 

International buyers have been sinking their teeth into Tran Anh Hung’s Competition title The Pot Au Feu, sold by Gaumont. It has been sold to Picturehouse for the UK and Ireland, the distributor that has also bought Justine Triet’s Competition title Anatomy Of A Fall sold by mk2 Films. Neon has North American rights.

Pyramide sold Catherine Breillat’s Competition film Last Summer to key territories ahead of the festival. Deals were done across Europe, to Australia and New Zealand and South Korea and discussions are now underway for deals in the US, UK and even Japan and Latin America. 

“Our French films have sold well during this Cannes and it’s really positive to see the market returning,” said Pyramide’s Agathe Mauruc. Pyramide also saw strong sales for Critics’ Week opener Marie Amachoukeli’s Ama Gloria and Anna Novion’s Special Screening Marguerite’s Theorem.

Those deals suggest there is a hunger for new voices.

“Buyers are most of all looking for films that buzz,” said Elle Driver’s Fontan Tessaur. “Concepts that really attract attention. People are getting sick of uniform content.” 

Charades’ Comte agrees: “Distributors are looking for new voices, younger voices. Not just films, but films with an edge to bring younger audiences into theatres.”

Delauney of Memento points to Bajoli’s Un Certain Regard feature Omen and Vladimir Perisic’s Critics’ Week entry Lost Country. “They are both stories about young people, written by young people. They are  authentic and this type of film is really trending right now among buyers. Buyers and audiences are looking for films like these that really pack a punch.”

Both films have been top sellers at the market and “are really motivating both European distributors and US and UK buyers.”

Another example is the sale by Goodfellas of Stephan Castang’s Critics’ Week title Vincent Must Die to Flawless, XYZ Films and Tea Shop Productions for all English-speaking territories. The edgy horror film is the first offspring of Goodfellas and Capricci’s genre cinema production company Wild West. 

However, Orange Studios’ Boucon cautioned. “The films need to be original but they can’t be totally outside of the box, especially for a first film.”

She said Orange Studio had seen a positive response to its thriller Drone directed by Simon Bouisson, in addition to more “safe bet” packages such as Lea Domenach’s biopic Bernadette, starring Catherine Deneuve as former French first lady Bernadette Chirac. 

US buyers 

The edgier French titles that target younger audiences are beginning to pique the interest of US buyers for whom buying a French title used to mean targeting it at a mature audience. Now those audiences are still staying home , post-pandemic, US distributors are recalibrating who the audience for French films could be.

Roadside Attractions’ co-president Howard Cohen is cheered by the audience that came out for Julia Ducournau’s Palme d’Or-winning Titane in 2021 via Neon. “It skewed younger,” he said. As further international Cannes premieres have crossed the $1m mark stin the US, Cohen said “those are indicative of possibility” for French-language fare in the future. 

“French films are still among the most popular international movies in the US and there’s a big market for them,” Sony Pictures Classics’ senior executive VP of acquisitions and production Dylan Leiner told Screen. But Leiner added buyers are being much more prudent than before.

“The market is different than it used to be. We used to come to Cannes and buy three or four films,” he said of last year’s haul that included  Davy Chou’s Return To Seoul and Mia Hansen-Love’s One Fine Morning just before the start of the festival. “We haven’t bought anything [yet this year] but that doesn’t mean we won’t.”

Unifrance’s executive director Daniela Elstner said the general dynamism at the market, fuelled by mostly positive responses to the films in selection from audiences and critics, has sparked sales for French titles. “Cannes is a festival where globally the films have been strong, so that boosts sales for everyone, including our French films.”