When Pathelaunches The Chorus (Les Choristes) into the UK on Friday, itwill do so in a way unthinkable for a foreign language film just a few yearsago.
For a start, thefilm is launching at approximately 65 locations, a scale of release that wouldhave seen as wildly over-optimistic back in the 1990s.
The feelgoodFrench film is also being extensively marketed. Screenings have been organisedthrough the Telegraph newspaper and UGC and have seen strong feedback fromaudiences.
Televisionadvertising has been heavily aimed at female and older audiences identified asthe film's core demographic with spots in popular UK morning show GMTV and oncable channels like UK Living as well as more general nationwide ads.
The reason forsuch an aggressive launch is that the distribution of foreign-language titlesin the UK has changed dramatically in the past five years.
In the 11 yearsprior to the January 2001 release of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, just sixforeign-language titles passed the £1m mark in the UK.
Since Ang Lee'sseminal film, 10 further subtitled films have crossed the mark, six in the last12 months. The number excludes the vibrant Bollywood market, which is a specialcase, playing largely to almost exclusively Asian audiences in specific catchmentareas.
Wuxia films havemade the two biggest contributions to the evolution of foreign-language cinema,starting with Crouching Tiger and then more recently with Zhang Yimou's Heroand House Of Flying Daggers.
When ColumbiaTriStar launched it on Jan 5 2001, Crouching Tiger was revolutionary,bucking the common distribution trend of opening foreign-language titles onsingle-figure or (occasionally) low double figure site numbers.
Released at 88sites, the film went wider than previous UK foreign-language record holder LifeIs Beautiful had ever reached (Roberto Benigni's film launched at 10 sitesin 1999 reaching 76 at the apex of its run).
Richard Napper,managing director Sony Pictures Releasing International, spearheaded therelease for Crouching Tiger at Columbia having previously worked on thatof Life Is Beautiful at BVI.
"There had alwaysbeen great scepticism about how well subtitled movies would do going wide,"says Napper. At the height of its release the film played 151 sites.
Following the successwider releases became more common. Momentum Pictures debuted French-title Amelieon 82 sites later the same year; Pathe launched Pedro Almodovar's Talk ToHer on 56 over the August bank holiday weekend in 2002, 34 more sites thanhad received Almodovar's previous title All About My Mother over thesame weekend in 1999; BVI launched Brazilian hit City Of God on 76 in2003, using the first week of the year position.
"All those peoplethat had seen and enjoyed Crouching Tiger were then prepared to come back so itbecame progressively easier for other films," says Napper. "Once you provesomething can be done once it takes less initiative to do it again."
Last year,however, BVI and Pathe went a step further putting Hero and House OfFlying Daggers out on 254 and 206 sites respectively, higher than CrouchingTiger had reached throughout its lifetime.
"We were fortunateenough to have Hero ahead of us," says Ian George, managing directorPathe Distribution. "We knew it would be on 250 plus prints and with that sizeof release we were able to create a bespoke trailer for Hero's audiencewhich was different from other trailers used."
The change in theindustry has allowed for such an aggressive release according to George.
"Exhibitorattitude has changed markedly in the last five or six years," he sayshighlighting UGC Cinema's policy toward playing 'range titles' throughout itschain, aiming not to differentiate between mainstream and specialised titlesand guaranteeing two week minimum runs as the major turning point in convincingother companies to welcome such product through their doors.
"The challengewith Flying Daggers was not to get 200 locations but to get the right200 locations."
Such a widerelease is still not always the way to go as George knows having successfullytaken Almodovar's Bad Education (released on 45 sites) and BAFTA bestforeign-language film winner The Motorcycle Diaries (80) past the £1mmark last year - a trick he hopes to repeat with this week's The Chorus (LesChoristes).
"You have to lookat the subject matter. For The Motorcycle Diaries we saw very goodnumbers from arthouses and key city centres but they were not as strong inmultiplexes. The opposite was true for Flying Daggers."
Meanwhile, March 18 will see smaller foreign language releases with UGCFilms' 5x2, directed by Francois Ozon, and Dogwoof Pictures' Don'tMove starring Penelope Cruz. Following that international box office hit Downfall(Der Untergang) will launch on April 1 through Momentum Pictures.UK Top Ten Foreign-Language Films 2001-2005
Film (Distributor)1st wkSites Total gross
1 The PassionOf The Christ (2004) Icon 46* $21m (£11.1m)
2 CrouchingTiger, Hidden Dragon (2001) Col TriStar 88 $17.7m (£9.4m)
3 Amelie(2001) Momentum 82 $9.5m (£5m)
4 Hero (2004)BVI 254 $7.2m (£3.8m)
5 House OfFlying Daggers (2004) Pathe 206 $6.8m (£3.6m)
6 TheMotorcycle Diaries (2004) Pathe 80 $5.2m (£2.7m)
7 City Of God(2003) BVI 76 $4.5m (£2.4m)
8 Y Tu MamaTambien (2002) Icon 38 $3.1m (£1.6m)
9 Talk To Her(2002) Pathe 57 $2.8m (£1.5m)
10 BadEducation (2004) Pathe 45 $2.6m (£1.35m)
* Released inRepublic Of Ireland only two weeks ahead of UK wide release on 323 sites.UK Top 10 foreign-language Films 1990-2000
Film (Distributor)1st wkSites Total gross
1 Life IsBeautiful (1999) BVI 10 $5.8m (£3.04m)
2 Cyrano DeBergerac (1991) Artificial Eye 8 $4.7m (£2.5m)
3 Il Postino(1995) BVI 6 $2.4m (£1.3m)
4 All About MyMother (1999) Pathe 22 $2.2m (£1.2m)
5 Farewell My Concubine(1994) Artificial Eye 8 $2m (£1.04m)
6 CinemaParadiso (1990) Palace 1 $1.9m (£1.02m)
7 Buena VistaSocial Club (1999) FilmFour 7 $1.8m (£0.96m)
8 ThreeColours: Red (1994) Artificial Eye 9 $1.6m (£0.84m)
9 Tout LesMatins Du Monde (1993) Electric 6 $1.5m (£0.81m)
10 Ridicule (1997)Alliance 10 $1.4m (£0.73m)