Arthouse Audit: Polanski’s Provocative ‘Venus in Fur’ Tops Tepid Specialized Openings

Arthouse Audit: Polanski's Provocative 'Venus in Fur' Tops Tepid Specialized Openings

Films from two established directors (Paul Haggis and Roman Polanski) offered well-hyped new releases this weekend. Polanski’s "Venus In Fur" (IFC), also available on Video on Demand, was the clear leader. Paul Haggis’ "Third Person" (Sony Pictures Classics) fared less well, doomed by high profile negative reviews. 

And things are not looking good among expanding films, without any strong new film in recent weeks. A24’s bleak road movie "The Rover" continues to disappoint as it did in its initial runs. The same company’s "Obvious Child" is finding some traction, while Music Box’ Polish period sleeper "Ida" continues to surprise, now at over $2 million.


"Venus in Fur" (IFC/Sundance Classics) – Criticwire: B;
Metacritic: 68; Festivals include: Cannes 2013, Tribeca 2014, City of
Lights City of Angels 2014; also available on Video on Demand

$26,200 in theaters; PSA; $13,100

"Venus in Fur"’s U.S. release (and VOD premiere) comes 40 years to the day after the opening of Roman Polanski’s
last American film "Chinatown," and more than a
year after the "Venus in Fur" Cannes competition premiere. This prime entry in the
director’s oeuvre never looked like a significant arthouse
release. Though the title suggests a scandalous adult
drama, it is an intellectually stimulating and personal
cinematic creation involving Mathieu Almaric (a dead ringer for Polanski) auditioning actresses for the lead role in a play; Polanski’s wife Emmanuelle Seigneur plays an unlikely candidate. A two-hander set
almost entirely within a Paris theater, it is
even more of a chamber piece than his modest grossing all-star
"Carnage," which opened to $80,000 in 5 theaters in 2011. With the VOD
alternative, this was never likely to be a big theatrical grosser
(though it does have two prime Manhattan theaters). But the gross is
still disappointing.

What comes next: Along with VOD, this will be seen in at least the top 15 markets over the next few weeks.

"Third Person" (Sony Pictures Classics) – Criticwire: C-; Metacritic: 33; Festivals include: Toronto 2013, Tribeca 2014

$42,046 in 5 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $8,419

Neither of Paul Haggis’ previous direction/writing efforts since "Crash" came close to equaling that breakout effort, but both "In the Valley of Elah" and "The Next Three Days" at least gained some traction. This European-filmed trio of interrelated romantic stories landed a prime group of New York/Los Angeles theaters, and above average marketing outlays from the usually economical (but always precisely targeted) Sony Picture Classics. But all this seems to have been doomed by a series of opening day reviews from top critics that ranged from tepid to scathing. (A handful of other high profile critics did tout the film.) This yielded the low end of what these venues usually gross for a new film.

What makes the failure more acute is that this came closer to the formula that made "Crash" work, with a thematically-related story and ensemble cast (here including among others Liam Neeson, James Franco, Mila Kunis, Kim Basinger, Adrien Brody and Olivia Wilde), with the sort of high-end relationships in European capitals feel that, in single city settings, has worked so well for Woody Allen (most of them handled by SPC). Strong elements notwithstanding, the end result was a disappointing gross.

What comes next: This is set to roll out to other top cities over the next two weeks, and per usual SPC patterns, blanket most possible markets before it is done, meaning the gross, even at a lower than hoped level, will be maximized. And there always remains the chance that audiences might end up reacting better than critics.

"Le Chef" (Cohen Media) – Criticwire: A-; Metacritic: 34; Festivals include: Berlin 2012, Seattle 2012

$10,894 in 1 theater; PSA: $10,000

Not to be confused with Jon Favreau’s "Chef," despite the French title here, this 2012 film actually is know at home as "Comme un chef" (Like a Chef). Cohen Media, the most Francophile of current U.S. distributors, opened this at New York’s Paris, the most Francophile of US theaters. Similar to its namesake, this is also a comedy about a once master chef now at trying to recreate himself in tough times. Here, veteran Jean Reno plays a master chef at odds with his boss’ modern ways who teams up with an equally alienated younger man to restore culinary standards. The gross is at the low end for what the Paris can provide with the right film, but also suggests that as it rolls out nationally that it will get some sampling, particularly with it appearing that its openings will be somewhat more delayed, perhaps to let the other "Chef" fade away.

What comes next: This doesn’t open in Los Angeles until July 25 (at the Royal, often the home for top French-language films).

"Coherence" (Oscilloscope) – Criticwire: B; Metacritic: 65; Festivals include: Sitges 2013, San Francisco 2014, Philadelphia 2014

$17,000 in 2 theaters; PSA $8,500

An unheralded new release (opening at two well-located theaters in New York and Los Angeles — the Village East and Los Feliz — that usually aren’t the home of prime first run limited films) did comparatively impressive business with very limited advertising but some social media and other grassroots advertising. A sci-fi thriller set on a night when a comet is passing over the earth, the story involves a group of couples eating together who find that something is bending space and time and otherwise causing disruption beyond their capacity to understand what is happening.

What comes next: This has upcoming dates (including the Bay area this weekend), but this noticeable gross likely encourages others to book it beyond what expectations might have been.

Also opening:

Among other openings, "Code Black" (Long Shot Factory), a documentary set at LA County Hospital, did an OK $6,000 at New York’s IFC Center. Veteran Swedish director Jan Troell’s "The Last Sentence," about a Swedish journalist’s lonely vocal opposition to Hitler, took in $9,000 in 2 theaters.

Ongoing and expanding

A24’s two recent releases had different results as they expanded further. Their Australian post-apocalypse trek film "The Rover" jumped quickly to 599 theaters (+594) to a very disappointing PSA of under $1,000 a theater with only $500,000 in its second weekend. This is not likely to be sticking around for long. The third weekend of "Obvious Child," expanding more slowly, fared better with $269,000 in 55 (+37), $602,000 so far. This will be in the top 50 markets by next weekend. Focus’ "The Signal" more than doubled its theaters (204, + 118) in its second weekend, but saw the gross drop slightly $152,000, an even worse PSA than "The Rover." The much more limited "A Coffee in Berlin" (Music Box) in its second weekend did $12,000 in 5 (+4).

Another third weekend film though continues to struggle, as Radius/Weinstein’s "Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon" managed only $45,600 in 46 (+28) theaters, total $127,000

Other specialized films grossing over $50,000 this weekend:

"Chef" (Open Road) Week  7 – $1,845,000 in 961 theaters (-141), total $16,942,000 (good enough for #9 overall)

"Belle" (Fox Searchlight) Week 8 – $330,000 in 244 theaters (-94), total $9,209,000

"Ida" (Music Box) Week – $254,000 in 125 theaters (+21); total $2,050,000 (this is still growing, with no end in sight)

"Words and Pictures" (Roadside Attractions) Week 5 – $220,000 in 175 theaters (-41), total $1,483,000

"The Grand Budapest Hotel" (Fox Searchlight)  Week 16 – $141,000 in 112 theaters (-37); total $58,355,000

"The Immigrant" (Weinstein) Week 6 – $86,000 in 110 theaters (-30); total $1,856,000

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