Annual event set to showcase 90 French productions, 48 of them market premieres.

Unifrance’s annual Rendez-vous with French Cinema in Paris will kick-off as planned on Thursday (Jan 15), a week after a series of terrorist attacks, in which 17 people were killed, rocked the capital.

France remains on high alert after the shooting of 12 people at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, by two radicalised brothers offended by its cartoon depictions of the Islamic prophet Mohammed; the shooting of a police woman and the slaughter of four people at a kosher supermarket in the east of the city.

The French government announced on Monday that it was deploying 10,000 troops to protect vulnerable sites across the country  — including Jewish schools and neighbourhoods – amid news that security forces believed at least six members of the terrorist cell that plotted the attacks may still be at large.

Charlie Hebdo’s surviving staff have responded to the attack with a new edition of the publication, featuring the prophet in tears and holding-up a sign reading “Je suis Charlie” on the front cover. Three million copies, in 16 languages, are due to be published on Wednesday (Jan 14).

Distributors expected in Paris

Against this backdrop, 600 distributors, from 50 countries, and 135 journalists, from 30 countries, are due in Paris for Unifrance’s annual event showcasing upcoming French films, dubbed by the promotional body as the “the biggest junket devoted to French cinema in the world”.

Unifrance’s general director Isabelle Giordano said the previously announced programme would remain in place, bar the last minute inclusion of Stéphane Valloatto’s Cartoonists, Foot Soldiers of Democracy in the line-up.

The documentary, produced by director Radu Mihaileanu and veteran Le Monde cartoonist Plantu, follows 12 cartoonists around the world who risk their lives for democracy and freedom of expression.  It will screen at the Rendez-vous at 7pm on Saturday (Jan 17).

Kinology handles international sales on the film, which premiered as a special screening at the Cannes Film Festival in 2014.

“It was our way to pay tribute to Charlie Hebdo,” said Giordano. “A lot of buyers and journalists who didn’t see it at Cannes asked if there was a way to see it so at the Rendez-vous we thought it made sense to arrange a screening,” said Giordano.

Alongside a debate on freedom of speech, last week’s attacks have also left France, a country which has legislatively favoured integration over multi-culturalism, grappling with what it means to live in a culturally diverse society as the spectres of Islamophobia and an anti-immigrant backlash raise their heads.

A number of films in this year’s Rendez-vous line-up touch on these issues including French rapper Abd Al Malik’s debut feature May Allah Bless France (Qu’Allah Bénisse la France), adapting his memoir on how his embrace of Islam helped him break out of a life of petty criminality and build a successful music career, and Cyprien Vial’s Young Tiger, about a young Indian boy living as an accompanied minor in the care of the French state. Both titles are sold by Films Distribution.

A culturally diverse society also acts as the backdrop to Fred Nicolas’ Marseilles-set Max & Lenny, starring female rapper Camélia Pand’Or as a disaffected teenager befriended by the bubbly Max, living in France illegally with her Congolese family. The film is sold by Alpha Violet.

Jean-Paul Civeyrac’s My Friend Victoria, transposes Doris Lessing’s novella Victoria and the Staveneys about an impoverished black girl who falls pregnant by the son of a liberal white, middle-class family, from London to Paris. It is sold by Les Films du Losange.

TF1 International will screen Marie-Castille Mention-Schaar’s Once in a Lifetime (Les Héritiers) about a teacher who signs up her academically failing, mixed-race class an inner city school for a national high school competition focusing on what it meant to be an adolescent held in a Nazi concentration camp, with unexpected result. The film, which has made $3m at the box office since its release in December, is based on a true story.

Comedies dominate line-up

Prior to last week’s events, the Rendez-vous was shaping up to to be an upbeat affair with comedies dominating the line-up and international box office figures for 2014 set to show a rebound in the performance of French films abroad, after a poor showing in 2013.

Patrice Leconte’s farcical comedy Do Not Disturb (Une Heure de Tranquillité), sold by Wild Bunch, will kick off the event on Thursday evening.  

Based on a work by celebrated French playwright Florian Zeller, it stars Christian Clavier as a jazz enthusiast attempting to listen to a cherished classic as he is besieged by a series of unwelcome intrusions by his wife, who announces she’s having an affair, a chatty cleaner, old friends and his mother. 

Produced by Fidélité Films, the picture has drawn nearly 700,000 spectators since its release on Dec 31. The presence of Clavier, who plays the father in multicultural comedy Serial (Bad) Weddings, has proven a big draw for international buyers where that film did well.

Wild Bunch has sold Do Not Disturb to dozen territories including Germany, Austria and Benelux – since first unveiling it at the AFM.

Other comedies being show-cased at the Rendez-vous include Alain Tezian’s fashion world caper Chic!, about a renowned fashion designer suffering from creative block, which is sold by Studiocanal; Noémie Saglio and Maxime Govare’s I Kissed A Girl about a gay man who wakes-up beside a woman on the eve of his wedding, which is on Gaumont’s slate, and Pascal Thomas’ darkly humorousValentin, Valentin, an adaptation of Ruth Rendell’sTigerlily’s Orchids, about a flat-warming party that takes a strange turn, which is sold by producer Said Ben Said’s SBS International.

TF1 will kick off sales on Eric Besnard’s romantic comedyThe Sense of Wonder about a widow, whose life takes on new meaning after she falls in love with an eccentric genius she knocks over by accident, and also screen Jean-Paul Rouve’s intergenerational comedy drama Memories(Les Souvenirs), revolving around a grandson’s hunt for his grandmother who runs away from a retirement home in search of her past.

Non-comedy titles market premiering include Francois Margolin’s The Art Dealer, about a Jewish woman who uncovers a family secret when she goes in search of a family painting stolen by the Nazi in World War Two, which is handled by Other Angle, and Frédéric Tellier’s police thriller SK1, starring Raphaël Personnaz as a young detective in pursuit of a serial killer which has been racking up rave reviews since hitting French screens on Jan 7 in France, selling more than 130,000 tickets in its first five days on release.

The film is handled by SND, the film production, distribution and sales arm of popular commercial network M6, which is on something of a roll at the French box office at the moment.

Its slate also includes Eric Lartigau’s Christmas hit La Famille Bélier about an aspiring young singer hailing from a family of deaf people, which is on track to hit at least five million spectators in France, as well as feature-length animation Asterix: The Mansions of the Gods, which has sold more close to three million tickets and was still filling theatres over the holiday period, some six weeks after it hit screens. Both films will screen at the Rendez-vous.

Other animations in the line-up include Pascal Morelli’s 108 Demon-Kings, a lavish adaptation of Chinese classic Water Margin set against the backdrop of Imperial China in the 12th century. The film produced by French Same Player and China’s Fundamental and backed by EuropaCorp which is due to start hitting screens in Europe and Asia this spring.

Arthouse fare

Arthouse titles market premiering at the meeting include Larry Clark’s The Smell of Us, about the community of adolescent skateboarders who hang out behind the Museum of Modern Art opposite the Eiffel Tower, which premiered at Venice and is sold by Wild Bunch. The company will also showcase Xavier Beauvois’ The Price of Fame, about two hapless petty criminals who try to steal Charlie Chaplin’s body, at the meeting.

Les Films Du Losange will unveil Romain Goupil’s The Days Come (Les Jours Venus) about a filmmaker reflecting back on his full and varied life. The picture, featuring Goupil, Valéria Bruni-Tedeschi, Marina Hands and Noémie Lvovsky, is due to hit French theatres this February,

First features from promising up and coming filmmakers screening in the selection include Jean-Luc Herbulot’s drug-trafficking thriller Dealer, sold by WTFilms, and Elodie Namer’s Budapest-set chess drama The Tournament, which is handled by MK2.

Annual foreign box office report

Aside from the screenings, market and press junket for journalists, the four-day Rendez-vous will also host the unveiling of Unifrance’s annual report on the performance of French cinema at the international box office on Friday.

After a poor showing in 2013, in which the international box office for French films slumped 60% after the bumper year of 2012, which saw the global release of Intouchables, The Artist and Taken 2, 2014 data is expected to show a rebound.

“The 2014 figures we’ll unveil on Friday will show that 2012 was not necessarily an exceptional year but rather a model for the future. At Unifrance, we’re persuaded that the international box office will be a driver for growth,” said Giordano.

The international success of Serial (Bad) Weddings and Luc Besson’s English-language Lucy are largely responsible for the rebound but the performances of films such as Beauty and The Beast, Minuscule, and Yves Saint Laurent have also played their part. .

“What’s interesting is that we can see that there are different tastes according to the territory. There’s a real appetite in the US, for example, for our art-house titles. Alongside the action pictures and comedies there’s also still space for films like Yves Saint Laurent or Beauty and the Beast,” said Giordano.

Besson, who is France’s most successful director internationally over the last two decades - will be guest of honour at the conference which will also be attended by French Minister for Culture and Communications Fleur Pellerin and Frédérique Bredin, president of the country’s National Cinema Centre (CNC).

His presence comes as Taken 3 – the latest film to come out of his Paris-based company EuropaCorp — storms the international box office, having dominated the charts in a number of territories, including the US and the UK, on its first weekend on release.

“He is the man of the year — both as a director and a producer. He has an incredible ‘savoir-faire’ and a real understanding of what the public wants,” said Giordano.

Other events during the Rendez-vous include the launch of the fifth edition of Unifrance’s online MyFrenchFilmFestival which will be available in India and a number of African territories for the first time this year.

“The big news for the festival this year is that it will be visible in Indian and large parts of Africa. We’re happy to be touching new audiences. It’s an important event for us.  The future of cinema is digital as well as theatrical,” said Giordano.

There will also be round-table on big screen literary adaptations. Panelists will include author David Fœnkinos, to the big screen in with Audrey Tautou in the lead role; Paul Otchakovski-Laurens, founder of publishing house P.O.L.; talent agent François Samuelson, a talent agent at French Intertalent and producer Anne-Dominique Toussaint of Paris-based Les Films des Tournelles.

“The subject came to us naturally. There are a lot of French films adapted from literary works. We wanted to work more with the publishing world. I think it’s interesting to look at what’s happening in the other cultural industries and create bridges,” said Giordano. 

For more information in English on the entire Rendez-vous programme click here.