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‘Divorce Club,’ ‘Mama Weed,’ ‘Under the Stars of Paris’ Among Highlights at UniFrance Rendez-Vous

Elsa Keslassy

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A mix of comedies such as Isabelle Huppert starrer “Mama Weed” and Michaël Youn’s “Divorce Club,” and director-driven titles like Claus Drexel’s “Under the Stars of Paris” were among the most buzzed-about market premieres of the UniFrance Rendez-Vous with French Cinema. The five-day showcase kicked off Jan. 17 with the world premiere of Martin Provost’s “How to Be a Good Wife” with Juliette Binoche, and wrapped Monday.

“Divorce Club” stars Arnaud Ducret and François-Xavier Demaison as a pair of 40-something divorcees who set up a dedicated membership club. Represented in international markets by SND, the film just won the top prize at the Alpe d’Huez Comedy Film Festival.

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Jean-Paul Salomé’s “Mama Weed” (pictured) stars Oscar-nominated actress Huppert as a French-Arabic translator working for the anti-drug squad in Paris. Le Pacte has now sold the film in major territories. “Mama Weed” was also presented at the Alpe d’Huez festival.

In a much different genre, “Under the Stars of Paris” was also a highlight among the Rendez-Vous’ European buyers, according to Gilles Renouard, co-managing director of UniFrance. The film has been sold by Memento Films International to key European territories. It stars Catherine Frot as a homeless woman who unexpectedly bonds with a Burkinabe boy and sets off with him across Paris to help find his mother.

Renouard said distributors were increasingly interested in buying completed French films when they can get a sense of its commercial prospects rather than coming on board at an earlier stage. Meanwhile, Sabine Chemaly, the exec VP of international distribution at TF1 Studio, said distributors were more and more drawn to films with strong remake potential, and were even at times more interested in picking up remake rights than the original French movie. TF1 Studio hosted the market premiere of “The Lion” with Dany Boon, which Chemaly has already pre-sold widely.

The other market unspoolings that garnered the most buyers were Michel Hazanavicius’s fantasy-filled family comedy “The Lost Prince” with Omar Sy (sold by Studiocanal); Gabriel Le Bomin’s historical drama “De Gaulle” with Lambert Wilson (sold by SND); Caroline Vignal’s “My Donkey, My Lover & I” (sold by Playtime); and Grégory Magne’s “Les Parfums” with Emmanuelle Devos (sold by Pyramide International).

Among the films and projects that were being pitched (but not screened) by French sales companies, the highlights included “Haut Couture,” Sylvie Ohayon’s contemporary film set in the French fashion industry headlined by Nathalie Baye, and up-and-coming actress Lyna Khoudri (“Papicha”). “Haute Couture” has received the support of Dior, the famed French luxury goods company, which has allowed the production (Les Films du 24) to use Dior costumes and visit workshops. Orange Studio has already sold the films to several major territories, including Japan.

Other titles that triggered the most interest from buyers were movies expected to world premiere at major festivals later this year, including Leos Carax’s “Annette” with Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard, Paul Verhoeven’s “Benedetta,” and Bruno Dumont’s “On a Half Clear Morning” with Lea Seydoux.

During the UniFrance Rendez-Vous, the org also unveiled two studies to quantify the presence of French films on SVOD services, as well as in key festivals around the world. According to the collected data, French films ranked fourth of the streaming services, after U.S., Indian and British movies, in 2019.

“In a landscape that’s still highly impacted by the weight of Netflix and Amazon Prime, French films represent 2.4% of the film offer across all streaming services,” said UniFrance’s managing director Daniela Elstner. She said French movies were particularly well represented on services in Belgium, Russia and Korea. 

Among the 10 biggest festivals in the world, French films account for an estimated 19% of films selected. “At Venice, San Sebastian, Locarno and Cannes, French films rank first, and in Busan, French films rank behind Korean films. Often we make up the biggest contingent, ahead of the nationality of the country hosting the festival,” said Elstner during her speech at the start of the UniFrance Rendez-Vous at the French culture ministry.