French farce took the center stage among titles in limited release, as the witty Parisian filmmaker Francis Verber's "The Valet" nabbed the top spot on this week's indieWIRE Box Office Tracking Report (iWBOT) of independent/specialty films. The comedy made an impressive $67,552 in its first week of release, averaging $11,259 on six screens. It was one of two titles released by Sony Classics to make it into the top ten on the iWBOT. The other title, Paul Verhoeven's WWII-set espionage tale "Black Book," held onto third place in its third week. The movie grossed an average of $4,476 per screen, down 62% as it expanded to 52 screens across the country. This brings the overall gross of "Black Book" to $232,753, much higher than anything else on iWBOT. Another title that returned to the top ten from last week, Alain Resnais' "Private Fears in Public Places," grossed a per screen average of $4,901 in New York, allowing it to rise up to second place from its debut fourth (behind "Black Book"). Last week's biggest grosser, Paramount Vantage's "Year of the Dog" fell to fourth place, while longtime champion "Killer of Sheep" dropped out of the top ten entirely.
The iWBOT is based on per-theater averages reported by Rentrak Theatrical, the complete indieWIRE BOT weekly chart is available here at indieWIRE.com
Verber, who has garnered critical accolades in the past for "The Dinner Game" and "The Closet," again received strong praise for his deft manipulation of comedic elements within an intentionally dense plot. The movie's success speaks to the popularity of foreign fare on the arthouse circuit and emboldens the idea that small scale comedies tend to do well in limited release, as "Dog" proved last week. This week, it broadened from 7 screens in New York and Los Angeles to 33 across the United States and Canada, resulting in a 26% decline in its initial per screen average.
The $4,901 per screen average of Resnais' film suggested that the 84-year-old seminal figure of the French New Wave still holds some interest for American audiences. Also, while the numbers generated by "Fear" were still substantially less than those of "The Valet," the fact that the first two spots on iWBOT are occupied by titles from French directors implies the national popularity of titles from the city of love. "I think Alain Resnais has a loyal following who turned out for the film in New York and have created a very positive word of mouth for the film," explained Mark Boxer, VP Sales and Distribution for IFC Films and IFC First Take. "Fears" stands a chance at further success as it opens in top markets and reaches Los Angeles audiences on May 4.
Two other titles in the top ten debuted this past week: The belatedly-released 2006 Sundance hit "Stephanie Daley" and Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul's widely acclaimed experimental documentary "Syndromes and a Century." The former made $3,401 at New York's Angelika Film Center, while Weerasethakul's film pulled in $2,759 on two screens, benefiting from an opening earlier in the week.
Another interesting development was the return to the top ten of Susanne Bier's Danish drama "After the Wedding," which dropped 48% last week as it spread out to 33 screens. Now at 42 screens, "After the Wedding" moved into the ninth spot with a per screen average of $2,695, bringing its entire gross up to $412,544.
Meanwhile, previous chart-topper "Killer of Sheep," the 1977 low budget drama that was recently restored by Milestone Pictures, dropped 32% in its per screen average, bringing its total gross to $2,365. Burnett's film broke box office records at the IFC Center in New York when it opened last month, but this week it broadened from two to four screens, guaranteeing the inevitable decline of its numbers.
The significant amount of movement along the chart partially resulted from a larger number of titles in release. Overall, the 73 titles on this week's iWBOT did $3.85 million on 2,755 screens. That's a 25% drop from last 66 titles, which made $5.18 million. The difference of seven titles seems to have contributed to the diminished returns.
Eric Kohn is a film critic for New York Press.
indieWIRE:BOT tracks independent/specialty releases compiled from Rentrak Theatrical, which collects studio reported data as well as box-office figures from North American theatre locations. To be included in the indieWIRE Box Office Chart, distributors must submit information about their films to Rentrak at email@example.com by the end of the day each Monday.