French sales agency Celluloid Dreams has received a double confidence boost ahead of tonight's (Feb 8) competition film Eight Women (Huit Femmes).

In its first day on commercial release Eight Women, a female ensemble piece by controversial director Francois Ozon, secured 43,000 spectators from a 24-print release in Paris handled by Mars Films. "We are thrilled by the public's response," said Pierre Menahem, Celluloid executive. "We would have been happy with 25,000. We did better even than Amelie's 37,000." Initial estimates for the first day's take in the whole of France is 170,000 spectators, from 488 screens.

Like Amelie, Eight Women has been rapidly embraced by France's political class. Prime minister - and presidential candidate - Lionel Jospin this week hosted a dinner for Ozon and the eight leading ladies: Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Huppert, Emmanuelle Beart, Fanny Ardant, Virginie Ledoyen, Ludivine Sagnier and Firmine Richard.

"It is rare that we are able to pre-sell a film like this to America or Australia," said Menahem. Among the 22 deals already completed on the film, Eight Women has now been sold to the US (USA Films), Australia (Dendy), Japan (Gaga Communications), Italy (Bim Distribuzione), Mexico (Gemini Films) and Brazil (Imovision).

"We have offers on the table from all other major territories and expect to complete sales to the UK, Germany and Scandinavia by the end of the festival," said Menahem. "By Monday distributors will be able to appreciate the warmth of the audience response and get the full weekend figures."