WORLD CINEMA REPORT: Can Foreign Heat Thaw Wintry World Market? New Films from Milan, Copenhagen, and Belgium
by Anthony Kaufman
(indieWIRE: 11.13.02) -- Sneak peeks at new films from Robert Altman and Francois Ozon energized what has been a lackluster market for the buying and selling of movies at last week's Mifed ("Mercato Internazionale del Film e del Documentario") in Milan, Italy. The 69th edition of the fall market (which ran November 3-7) showcased new studio product for foreign buyers (Alan Parker's "The Life of David Gale," Quentin Tarantino's long-awaited "Kill Bill") as well as notable auteur projects such as Altman's "The Company," an inside look at the world of ballet starring Neve Campbell, and Ozon's "The Swimming Pool," a psychological thriller starring Ozon collaborators Charlotte Rampling ("Under the Sand") and Ludivine Sagnier ("8 Women").
No U.S. distribution deal has been announced for Ozon's sixth feature film in just four years, but because of the rushed time span of the five-day event, acquisition execs are apparently taking time to gather their thoughts and negotiate lower sale prices before putting ink to paper.
However, Variety reported foreign sales were brisk on Wong Kar-wai's long-in-production sci-fi romancer "2046" based on a promo reel which confounded some U.S. buyers. Variety reported that Lions Gate Films nabbed two French genre pics: Olivier Megaton's "The Red Siren," starring Jean-Marc Barr and Asia Argento, and Julien Magnat's "Bloody Mallory," about a woman who discovers her new husband is a demon. The trades also reported an impending U.S. deal for Deepa Mehta's "Bollywood/Hollywood." And in international sales, Focus Features pulled off a major hat trick with German distrib Constantin, selling Alejandro Innaritu's "21 Grams," Michel Gondry's "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," and Sofia Coppola's "Lost in Translation" in a deal that flies in the face of Germany's financial troubles and confirms the former Good Machine International's strength in the world market (the company even threw a blowout party in a Milan disco).
At Mifed's close, several U.S. distributors hopped on a plane to Copenhagen to catch the opening of the Danish black comedy "Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself," Lone Scherfig's English-language follow-up to her Dogme 95 favorite "Italian for Beginners." Fellow Danes Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg have also been in the news. Their latest collaboration "Dear Wendy," written by Trier and to be directed by Vinterberg, according to sales agent Trust Film Sales, follows a group of people infatuated with guns. The movie is slated to shoot next September. Trier will also embark on a sequel to his latest "Dogville" (which will likely be unveiled at Cannes 2003), called "Manderlay," which depending on the schedule of "Dogville" star Nicole Kidman, could also shoot next fall.
Meanwhile, back in the States, another European national cinema is getting special screen time in a series called Transcendent Realism: New and Old Cinema from Belgium (playing at Lincoln Center, November 7-27). Belgium's film industry may not have the stature of hefty neighbors France and Germany (or even Denmark), but with international auteurs such as Chantal Ackerman (her latest "From the Other Side" is on tap) and the Dardenne brothers (Cannes winner "Rosetta," the upcoming "The Son"), along with recent crossovers like Jaco van Dormael's "Toto the Hero," Alain Berliner's "Ma Vie en Rose," and Oscar nominee "Everybody Famous!", the country's cinematic contributions to world cinema go far beyond Mr. Muscles from Brussels, Jean-Claude Van Damme.
"There are strong cinematic traditions that feed into what we're seeing now," says Penn State professor Philip Mosley, and author of "Split Screen: Belgian Cinema and Cultural Identity." "On the one hand you have social realism and this strong line of documentary work represented by the Dardenne brothers. On the other hand, you have this magic realism represented by Andre Delvaux ['Rendezvous in Bray'], the father of modern Belgian cinema, and Flemish director Harry Kumel ['Malpertuis']."
Belgium, split into Flemish and French speaking territories (and about the size of Maryland), isn't divided by these two trends, however. While the documentary tradition is stronger in French-language filmmakers and the fantastical works derive from Flemish art, according to Mosley, the two strains do blend together, as in Berliner's gender-bending fantasy "Ma Vie en Rose" from the French camp and Patrice Toye's recent gritty coming-of-ager "Rosie" from the Flemish side of the tracks.
Belgian's short films also have a special place in the industry as art in their own right, and have provided fertile training ground for new talent. At this year's European Film Awards, the short film nominees include two Belgian entries, "Muno" and "Wedding Night." The country's several film schools, particularly the INSAS (Institut National Superieur des Arts du Spectacle), are committed to fomenting both Flemish and French-speaking new directors through the production of shorts and features. "A lot of young filmmakers are making their mark now," says Mosley. "New names are emerging, with a lot of first features coming out of the film schools."
The current New York event is a testament to this latest wave, riddled with newcomers from opening night immigrant charmer "Hop," directed by Dominique Standaert, whose contemplative, confident African adolescent is the poster boy for the series, to Vicent Lannoo's Dogme 95-sanctioned acting class confidential "Strass" (Variety called it "a deft and scathing satire of self-important drama schools") to Locarno winner "Meisje," Dorothee van den Berghe's fresh coming-of-ager. (Belgium is also home to a strong animation tradition, which dates back to celebrated comic strip art from Tintin to The Smurfs. The work of Raoul Servais, one of Europe's foremost animators and arguably the cinematic heir to Belgian surrealist painters Paul Delvaux and Rene Magritte, can be seen in a special program in New York on November 23 and 26).
While the Belgian film industry continues to rely heavily on a state subsidy system, which according to Mosley, "wasn't sharp enough in terms of putting films into theaters and getting them made for international distribution," new film bodies, such as the Flemish Audio-Visual Fund on the Flemish side, and fledgling investment fund Wallimage dedicated to the Wallonia area of Belgium, are empowering a new crop of Belgian filmmakers that could rival their more established neighbors in the coming years.