The poor box office performance of Roland Joffe's Cannes opener Vatel has sent French major Gaumont spinning into the red with a pre-tax loss of $12.5m (FF89m) in the first half of 2000 compared to profits of $5.1m (FF36m) in the first half of 1999.

Gaumont's net loss added up to $14.9m (FF106m) between Jan-June 2000, compared with a profits of $3.4m (FF24m) during the previous half-year. Vatel flopped at the French box office attracting only 541,000 spectators and grossing only an estimated $3.25m. Gaumont said the film "weighed heavily on international sales," and calculates its total loss at $16.2m (FF115m).

The result is a major disappointment for Gaumont, which last year saw its net profits tumble from $14.2m (FF101m) to $8.2m (FF58m) as admissions slid. This time the exhibition circuit performed better with profits rising from $2.8m (FF20m) to $7m (FF50m) as admissions rose again and it brought new multiplexes on stream. But losses from production activities undermined the benefit of selling off the loss-making television units last year and good results for The Sixth Sense and Toy Story 2 which are distributed by the Gaumont-Buena Vista International joint venture.

Gaumont said that the second half should be better than the first and the company has high hopes for Mathieu Kassovitz' Les Rivieres Pourpes, with Jean Reno and Vincent Cassel. Early next year it hopes to profit from the release of the dubbed US release of 1990s mega-hit Les Visiteurs.

But adding to the current woes is the suspended shoot of Francis Veber's Le Placard, which is expected to re-start before the end of the year when star Gerard Depardieu is fully recovered from his heart operation.