By Indiewire | Indiewire June 12, 2007 at 12:32PM
The argument for gracing veteran director Steven Soderbergh with the title of master filmmaker may rest more on recent box office defeats, his digitally shot, experimental film "Bubble" and his pinpoint recreation of Golden Age Hollywood moviemaking, the post-World War II melodrama "The Good German," than his current caper hit, "Ocean's Thirteen." The Soderbergh rule, at least since his 2000 career-reviving success "Erin Brockovich," is to dance between audience-friendly studio projects like "Ocean's" and artier fare like his upcoming Spaulding Gray documentary "Life Interrupted." The goal is to master the business of moviemaking and the fact that "Ocean's Thirteen" sits atop the box office chart with weekend earnings of $36.13 million grants Soderbergh the leverage to make the movies he wants.
The iWBOT is based on per-theater averages reported by Rentrak Theatrical, the complete indieWIRE BOT weekly chart is available here at indieWIRE.com
Other film masters, especially those who exclusively occupy the world cinema stage, have a harder time generating sizable American audiences. When box-office success happens, it's cause for double celebration.
The weekend champ among the new art-house offerings was Picturehouse Films' French-language, Edith Piaf drama "La Vie En Rose." Earning a robust $179, 848 from only eight venues in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Toronto. "La Vie En Rose" tallied a $22,481 per-screen average with Arclight, Hollywood as its top-grossing venue. "La Vie En Rose" deepens its runs in existing markets and aggressively rolls out Friday to new cities including Boston, Chicago and Washington, DC. In addition to bringing attention to its French star, actress Marion Cotillard, "La Vie En Rose" promises to introduce its 40-year-old filmmaker, Olivier Dahan, to U.S. audiences unfamiliar with his equally impressive 2002 Isabelle Huppert drama "La Vie promise."
"La Vie En Rose" continues the encouraging, early summer trend of foreign-language success. Tartan Films' "12:08 East of Bucharest," Romanian filmmaker Corneliu Porumboiu's smart and surprisingly funny drama about small-town residents reminiscing about their role in the 1989 overthrow of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, earned $11,586 from its single run at New York's Film Forum. "12:08 East of Bucharest" plays exclusively at the Film Forum through June 19 before a steady, summer roll out to other cities.
The latest drama from legendary filmmaker Manoel de Oliveira, "Belle Toujours," earned $5,363 from an exclusive run at New York's Lincoln Plaza Cinemas. An artful sequel to Luis Bunuel's classic "Belle de Jour," de Oliveira reunites the two main characters, including original actor Michel Piccoli, thirty-eight years later for the revelation of long-held secrets. "Belle Toujours" closes Thursday at the Lincoln Plaza despite its strong opening. For Jonathan Howell, head of theatrical sales at New Yorker Films, it's bold proof of the challenges facing film companies who remain committed to world masters.
"We had a decent opening but still could only play one week in New York, which is our core market," Howell said. "This speaks directly to the difficulty of releasing challenging films, especially those by made by artists referred to as masters. It's especially hard in the summer, when young people are paying more attention to blockbusters."
New Yorker Films plans to expand "Belle Toujours" to Los Angeles sometime in July, just before opening a title from another world master, Iranian director Majid Majidi's "The Willow Tree."
Thanks to packed shows at the Hollywood Egyptian Theatre featuring actress Barbara Steele as an on-stage narrator and a live orchestra, avant-garde filmmaker Guy Maddin's quasi-biography "Brand Upon The Brain!" earned $36,669 from just three venues. Vitagraph Films will expand "Brand Upon The Brain!" Friday in San Francisco and Berkeley, this time with recorded narration by Isabella Rossellini.
Fox Searchlight's "Waitress," late filmmaker/actress Adrienne Shelly's heartfelt drama about Jenna (Keri Russell), a waitress at a rural southern diner looking to end her unhappy marriage, was the only specialty release to remain in the overall top ten with a weekend total box office of $1,650,000 from 707 art-house and conventional multiplex locations. Landing at No. 9 on the chart, just one notch below "Spider-Man 3," "Waitress" has an impressive cumulative box office of $11,967,049 after six weeks in release.
Fox Searchlight claims the summer's top two, art-house success stories thanks to director John Carney's Dublin-set musical romance "Once," which gathered $515,000 from a gradual expansion strategy that has reached 95 screens. "Once" has a cumulative box office of $1,739,619 after four weeks in release.
"Golden Door" ("Nuvomondo"), Miramax Films' tale of early 20th-century immigrants coming to America, earned $31,678 from nine screens for a per-location average of $3,520. Miramax expands "Golden Door" to various cities Friday including Chicago and San Diego.
"Chalk," a documentary-like comedy about schoolteachers from Someday Soon Productions, continues to be a grassroots success. "Chalk" earned $22,128 from its six locations and opens Friday in Atlanta.
Making the most of its exclusive run at New York's Cinema Village is "Amu", first-time feature filmmaker Shonali Bose's drama about a young woman who returns to India in order to learn more about her past. "Amu," from Emerging Pictures, earned $3,158 from its single run and opens Friday in three Los Angeles venues, Edison, New Jersey as well as Brooklyn's Kent Theatre.
Looking ahead, Roadside Attractions opens the retro zombie farce "Fido" Friday at New York's Angelika and Los Angeles' Nuart Theatre. Miramax's New Zealand comedy "Eagle vs. Shark," about a romance between a video game fanatic and a shy fast-food restaurant clerk, opens Friday at New York's Sunshine Cinema and the Landmark Westside Pavilion in Los Angeles, the first wave of an aggressive platform release.
More political in spirit are two new documentary releases from First Run Features. In "Unborn in the USA: Inside the War on Abortion," co-directors Stephen Fell and Will Thompson look at the pro-life movement via a cross-country trip gathering interviews. "Beyond Hatred," by French documentary filmmaker Olivier Meyrou, follows a family as they come to grips with the death of their gay son at the hands of skinheads. Both films share an auditorium exclusively at New York's Cinema Village before a deliberately paced platform release throughout the summer.
On the subject of film masters, no director is more deserving of that title than Finland's Aki Kaurismaki. Strand Releasing opens his latest, the subtle comedy "Lights in the Dusk" on Wednesday at New York's IFC Center. "Lights in the Dusk" is Kaurismaki's third film in his trilogy of everyday Finns experiencing extraordinary events, following "Drifting Clouds" and "The Man Without a Past." He's yet to match Soderbergh's financial success. Still, no one has ever questioned Kaurismaki's masterly status. Kaurismaki's fans know that the popular and the artful seldom match, especially on box office charts.
Steve Ramos is a Cincinnati based writer.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org by the end of the day each Monday.