By Indiewire | Indiewire January 11, 2006 at 6:52AM
The European film that dares to challenge its audience's comfort levels - once a mainstay of American art-houses in the commercial heyday of Antonioni, Bunuel and Alain Resnais - may be staging a comeback, based on the latest indieWIRE Box Office Tracker (iW BOT) for specialty films. "Cache" (Hidden) finished first among 47 ranked movies for the Jan. 6 - 8 weekend, based on its per-screen average of $13,851 at five theaters in New York and Los Angeles. Austrian director Michael Haneke's French-language film is a gripping, abstracted political thriller about the complicated relationship between a video-stalker and the bourgeois couple who are his victims. It stars Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche. Sony Pictures Classics acquired it at last year's Cannes Film Festival.
[View the indieWIRE:BOT Box Office Table for this week's films here.]
What is noteworthy about "Cache" is that it is holding so well - down just a bit less than 30% from the previous four-day holiday weekend. "It's a great start," said Michael Barker, co-president of Sony Classics. "It's a movie so in the moment about our modern anxieties. We feel it's going to work all over the country."
While 63-year-old Haneke is a critics' favorite, his past films such as "The Time of the Wolf" and "The Piano Teacher" have been too difficult for a variety of reasons to attract an American following beyond devoted cinephiles.
"This is his most accessible film," Barker said. "It's attracting more of a crossover audience and people are discovering him for the first time. It helps to have great performances by two stars. And it helps to be winning critics' awards."
Sony Classics is following a slow, cautious release plan for "Cache." On Friday, it enters the Boston and Chicago markets and expands slightly in Los Angeles.
Meanwhile, Mark Urman - ThinkFilm's head of its U.S. theatrical department - wishes "Cache" well. But he says the market for foreign-language releases remains bad in this country. "Look at calendar year 2005 and see how few grossed over $1 million," he said. "Considering the costs of marketing; $400-$500,000 is unacceptable. Yet the ones that earn more than that are rarer than hen's teeth."
ThinkFilm debuted a new film last weekend that Urman hopes ultimately grosses $1 million or more - the Holocaust drama "Fateless," adapted by Hungarian director (and acclaimed cinematographer) Lajos Koltai from an autobiographical novel by Nobel Prize-winning author Imre Kertesz. It finished second on the iWBOT with a per-screen gross of $12,680, selling out screenings at its one location, New York's Film Forum. It was the only new film on the chart.
Urman credited that performance to coverage in the New York press - The New York Times did both a feature and a positive review. "That established the film as a valuable entity in an extremely difficult environment for foreign films," he said.
"Fateless" moves into Los Angeles on Jan. 20 and its further expansion will depend on whether it receives an Oscar nomination for best foreign-language film.
As films open wide, they tend to fall in ranking on the iWBOT chart since it is based on per-screen gross. That happened to Woody Allen's "Match Point," last week's leader with a phenomenal $66,179 per-screen average on eight screens over the four-day holiday weekend.
Jumping it to 305 screens last weekend, DreamWorks saw the per-screen gross drop to a still-healthy $8,912 - good for fifth on the iWBOT. But it earned $2.7 million, one of only two charted releases earning more than $1 million.
The other has become a classic of film marketing - and maybe a film classic, too, to boot. Adding 214 screens to reach a total of 483 in its fifth week of release, "Brokeback Mountain" finished third on the iW BOT chart with an $11,856 per-screen average. That was a per-screen drop of just over 35% from the four-day holiday weekend. It also earned $5.7 million, more than 50% of the total gross of all iW BOT films, as it brought its overall take to $22.4 million. It is now in 90 markets.
As it expanded and did well in conservative and/or small cities like Oklahoma City, Colorado Springs, Davenport, Boise, Omaha, Duluth, Birmingham and Norfolk/Newport News, the issue of it being an audience-limiting "gay cowboy" movie has virtually disappeared. Instead, the new question is: Could this be a $100 million movie?
Only at one of four Salt Lake theaters, Megaplex at Jordan Commons, was there a problem - a last-minute cancellation. "They're out of business with me," said Jack Foley, distribution head for Focus Features, of that theater. "When you deal with unscrupulous business people who have no word, why would I work with them?"
Foley said the past weekend verified what earlier tracking was indicating. "It's a clear statement - a green light - as opposed to just indications of how well this film is being embraced throughout America," he said. "The film just performs so damn well everywhere."
Overall, the 47 iW BOT films grossed $10.86 million last weekend. That was up from the approximately $9.1 million earned by 53 movies during the four-day holiday weekend, primarily a function of the "Brokeback" and "Match Point" expansions but also due to continuing good results from three chart mainstays - "Capote" (15th with a $2,562 average on 129 screens), "Pride & Prejudice" (16th with a $2,310 average on 381 screens), and "Good Night, and Good Luck" (18th with a $2,011 average on 157 screens).
In total, indies had a solid week at the box office. Holding just under 5% of the total 39,459 screens industrywide, they nevertheless accounted for approximately 8.5% of the $128 million gross.
ABOUT THE WRITER: Steven Rosen is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and former movie critic for the Denver Post.