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iW BOT| "Pan's Labyrinth" Continues Strong; "Scandal" Expands Beautifully, While Chabrol's "Comedy o

Indiewire By Indiewire | Indiewire January 10, 2007 at 2:22AM

On the first full weekend of the new year, audiences showed keen interest in such end-of-2006 studio specialty-division releases as Picturehouse's "Pan's Labyrinth," Fox Searchlight's "Notes on a Scandal," Miramax Films' "Venus," Warner Independent Pictures' "The Painted Veil" and Sony Pictures Classics' "Curse of the Golden Flower," according to the latest indieWIRE Box Office Tracking Report (iWBOT). And amidst those lively titles, one pure indie - Koch Lorber Films - scored a major surprise in launching a new 2007 film, French directorial icon Claude Chabrol's "Comedy of Power," to a $10,061 weekend gross at Manhattan's IFC Film Center. As a result, it finished third on the iWBOT with numerous sell-outs reported.
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On the first full weekend of the new year, audiences showed keen interest in such end-of-2006 studio specialty-division releases as Picturehouse's "Pan's Labyrinth," Fox Searchlight's "Notes on a Scandal," Miramax Films' "Venus," Warner Independent Pictures' "The Painted Veil" and Sony Pictures Classics' "Curse of the Golden Flower," according to the latest indieWIRE Box Office Tracking Report (iWBOT). And amidst those lively titles, one pure indie - Koch Lorber Films - scored a major surprise in launching a new 2007 film, French directorial icon Claude Chabrol's "Comedy of Power," to a $10,061 weekend gross at Manhattan's IFC Film Center. As a result, it finished third on the iWBOT with numerous sell-outs reported.

On the first full weekend of the new year, audiences showed keen interest in such end-of-2006 studio specialty-division releases as Picturehouse's "Pan's Labyrinth," Fox Searchlight's "Notes on a Scandal," Miramax Films' "Venus," Warner Independent Pictures' "The Painted Veil" and Sony Pictures Classics' "Curse of the Golden Flower," according to the latest indieWIRE Box Office Tracking Report (iWBOT). And amidst those lively titles, one pure indie - Koch Lorber Films - scored a major surprise in launching a new 2007 film, French directorial icon Claude Chabrol's "Comedy of Power," to a $10,061 weekend gross at Manhattan's IFC Film Center. As a result, it finished third on the iWBOT with numerous sell-outs reported.

The iWBOT is based on per-theater averages reported by Rentrak Theatrical, the complete indieWIRE BOT weekly chart is available here at indieWIRE.com

"Pan's Labyrinth," Mexican director Guillermo del Toro's Spanish-language mixture of surreal fantasy and political statement about the Spanish Civil War, finished first on the iWBOT by averaging $17,359 at 44 theaters in its second week of release. It added 27 theatrical runs and saw its weekend gross increase by more than a third.

It also drew close to $2 million in overall gross. Its weekend take of $763,800 was greater than that of another Spanish-language film, Pedro Almodovar's "Volver" from Sony Classics, even though the latter was at 109 sites. ("Volver" has been around for 10 weeks, part of a cautious word-of-mouth-based national release.)

The R-rated "Pan's Labyrinth" so far is appealing both to fantasy buffs who like del Toro's "Hellboy" and even Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" and to art-film lovers who see in del Toro a successor to Bunuel. (Last week, it was named Best Picture by National Society of Film Critics.)

Most of the additional runs last weekend were in suburban L.A. to see how the film would draw mainstream audiences, Latino and non-Latino, in Orange County, Burbank, Sherman Oaks and other outlying areas.

"We were spending the money on media anyway so we wanted to see how it would perform," said Bob Berney, Picturehouse president. "It performed well next to 'Dreamgirls' and 'A Night at the Museum.' The audiences didn't seem to care if it was in Spanish or had subtitles. That bodes very well."

The movie leaps to 190 theaters this weekend, expanding in New York and going into such new markets as Washington, Philadelphia, Boston, Dallas, Houston, Austin, San Diego, Seattle, and along Texas' Rio Grande Valley. On Jan. 19th it increases to 500 sites.


(An English-language film by another Mexican director, Alfonso Cuaron's arty parable of a futuristic thriller, "Children of Men," had an explosively successful weekend when Universal Pictures decided to treat it like a mainstream release rather than a specialty film. In its second weekend on 1,209 screens - up by 1,193! - it averaged $8,434 per site and finished third on Rentrak's chart of all films in distribution.)

In second place on the iWBOT in its second week of release was another new hit, "Notes on a Scandal" - Richard Eyre's juicy drama starring Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett as two British teachers at loggerheads over one's affair with a student.

Swiftly moving into new markets as it jumped from 22 theaters to 93, it increased its weekend business by 172% as it averaged $12,100 per site and took in $1.125 million overall. It will move to 200 theaters this weekend, poised for a major advance on Jan. 26.

"Notes" contains what has become the indie/specialty market's equivalent of a sure thing - a showcase performance by a veteran British actress, preferably a Dame, in a character-driven movie with a strong female cast. It's enough to set off a bidding war to lure Glenda Jackson back.

Stephen Gilula, Fox Searchlight's chief operating officer, said there's been a keen audience for such actresses at least since Mike Newell's 1992 "Enchanted April" with a cast centered by Joan Plowright.

But "Notes" deviates from the formula by pairing Dench with a hot younger actress and having a story with a sexy, contemporary plot. "What happens is it becomes a cool, edgy movie and expands the audience," Gilula said. Still, he said, "You've seen a lot of titles stumble and fall with big-name actresses. All the elements have to be in place, plus you need luck."

Interestingly, a literary film about a troubled marriage between a young couple - John Curran's adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham's "The Painted Veil" - seems to be catching on with older women, despite featuring two young stars in Edward Norton and Naomi Watts. It finished fifth on the IWBOT in its third weekend by averaging $6,760 at 72 theaters. It added 35 runs and saw overall gross jump by one-third.

"It takes a while for word-of-mouth to reach with this audience, but once it does the film can play for a long time," said Steven Friedlander, Warner Independent's executive vice president for distribution. He compared its commercial potential with "Ladies in Lavender" and "Tea with Mussolini" and said it will jump to 200 play dates this weekend.


The iWBOT's third-place film, "Comedy of Power," is a surprise. "The strategy seems to be working," said Richard Lorber, in an initial E-mail message. Then, by phone he added: "We were a little anxious to go with an opening right after the New Year's holiday weekend. We thought it would be hard to get attention for anything in the specialty vein right now. But it turns out the coast was clear for us to get media attention. There really wasn't anything else opening."

The film, as well as 76-year-old Chabrol and its star, Isabelle Huppert, received major press coverage in New York. It is based on the real-life Enron-like corporate scandal involving the French oil company Elf Aquitaine, with Huppert playing an investigator. It had played last year's Tribeca Film Festival.

Lorber said the downtown IFC Center - a hip art-house where David Lynch's self-distributed (via 518 Media) "Inland Empire" has been playing - proved a good booking for a film whose primary audience was an older "uptown" crowd. "I think we even got a few Wall Street people there because of the subject matter," he said. Koch Lorber will slowly expand the film nationally.

One film not on the IWBOT but being released by a studio as if it were a specialty title is Clint Eastwood's Japanese-language "Letters from Iwo Jima" from Warner Bros. Holding on five screens in its third week, it is performing very well and averaging $15,859, just a small decline in business from the previous weekend according to Box Office Mojo. Were it eligible, it would be second on the iWBOT.

Overall, the 46 titles on the iWBOT took in $5.78 million last weekend from 1,482 screens, down just under $1 million from the $6.73 million taken in the previous weekend by 51 titles on 1,571 screens. However that weekend was a four-day holiday one. So the small decline as well as a healthy per-screen average of $4,284 - virtually equal to the previous weekend's $4,282 - shows that indie/specialty hits with staying power are emerging.

(Steven Rosen is a Los Angeles-based film writer and former movie critic at the Denver Post.)