With the Cannes Film Festival off and running, the quality of this year’s lineup will gradually emerge in our daily coverage. However, for buyers at the festival, the question is less about the quality of various movies and more about their marketability. While the festival runs two weeks, only a handful of movies in the main lineup have generated serious interest for distributors at this early stage. Here’s a look at a few contenders — as well as a couple of titles screening in the gargantuan marketplace.
WHY IT MIGHT SELL BIG: Director-actor Canet helms this remake of the 2008 French movie he starred in. Canet’s directing abilities were first acclaimed with the taut thriller “Tell No One,” and while his follow-up “Little White Lies” received a mixed critical reception, it was still a fairly successful, star-studded affair with a cast that included Marion Cotillard. “Blood Ties” also features a high profile ensemble that includes Clive Owen, Zoe Saldana, Billy Crudup, James Caan and Cotillard. It’s also got a meaty genre hook: The bleak tale of two brothers, a cop and a convict forced to reconcile their differences, Canet’s “Blood Ties” transplants the action to the gritty Brooklyn of the early 1970s. Not forgetting that “The Departed” was also a remake, could this crime story garner interest as an Oscar hopeful?
SALES COMPANY: Wild Bunch
“The Past” (Director: Asgar Farhadi)
WHY IT MIGHT SELL BIG: Fresh from his foreign language Oscar win for “A Separation,” the Iranian director Farhadi has left his native country for his biggest production to date, a relationship drama set in Paris that “The Artist” actress Bérénice Bejo and Tahar Rahim in which an Iranian man aims to finalize his divorce and confronts some old demons. Sony Pictures Classics played a key role in bringing “A Separation” to the Oscar podium last year so it’s possible the company has first crack at this drama, although its commercial prospects are still up for debate (it was originally set to star Cotillard rather than Bejo, who has less immediate marketability). Still, there’s no doubt this competition title will draw plenty of interest from specialty distributors as its plot has art house appeal written all over it.
SALES COMPANY: Memento Films
“Young and Beautiful” (Director: Francois Ozon)
WHY IT MIGHT SELL BIG: Ozon’s last movie, “In the House” was a highbrow hit on the festival circuit and in limited release, proving that the prolific French director hasn’t lost his ability to make sophisticated, character-driven stories that don’t shy away from uncomfortable subject matter. “Young and Beautiful,” which screens in the main competition, aims to tell the story of a 17-year-old through “four seasons and seven songs.” The trailer includes a voiceover explanation for her decision to become a prostitute. In other words, it’s a coming of age tale from a director who has recently made a pretty decent coming of age movie. And if it’s a sexy French coming of story, distributors may very well swoon.
SALES COMPANY: Wild Bunch
“Blue Ruin” (Director: Jeremy Saulnier)
WHY IT MIGHT SELL BIG: Saulnier’s follow-up to his Slamdance award-winning “Murder Party” isn’t a big star-driven movie with mainstream appeal, but it does feature a dark comic tale of murder and revenge, the sort of thing that might work well on VOD for distributors that tend to be successful in the genre film arena.
SALES COMPANY: Memento Films
“Last Days on Mars” (Ruari Robinson)
WHY IT MIGHT SELL BIG: Robinson’s first feature is a desolation-in-space science fiction thriller starring Liev Schreiber. There isn’t a ton of buzz surrounding this Directors Fortnight title yet, but if the reception is strong enough, buyers may be drawn to this curious project, which may hold appeal on par with Duncan Jones’ similarly minimalist sci-fi effort “Moon.”
SALES COMPANY: Focus Features International
WHY IT MIGHT SELL BIG: Hong Kong director Johnnie To is considered a modern action auteur whose prolific output has gained acclaim around the world, even though his movies rarely get widely released in the U.S. However, last year’s “Drug War” landed a lucrative deal with Well Go Entertainment, and this latest effort — about a cop, played by Andy Lau, who loses his eyesight and decides to take on one final job — sounds pretty wild. There’s a substantial audience for To’s work, and it helps that this one features one of China’s biggest stars.
SALES COMPANY: Media Asia International
“Mood Indigo” (Director: Michel Gondry)
WHY IT MIGHT SELL BIG: Michel Gondry’s loopy adaptation of Boris Vian’s 1947 novel has already opened in France, where it tanked at the box office and received lukewarm reviews. However, reactions to the heavily stylized tale of a romance between a man (Romain Duris) and a woman (Audrey Tatou) suffering from a bizarre flower-related disease suggest that Gondry’s quirky sensibilities and the well-known French cast might strike a better chord with American audiences, where Gondry has been able to carve out a more welcoming niche since moving overseas. It’s currently screening in the Cannes market.
SALES COMPANY: Studiocanal
“How I Live Now” (Director: Kevin Macdonald)
WHY IT MIGHT SELL BIG: “The Last King of Scotland” director Macdonald’s adaptation of Meg Rosoff’s 2004 novel is screening in the Cannes market. The usually reliable Saoirse Ronan stars as a young woman visiting relatives in the English countryside during the outbreak of World War III, which the book only sketches out in vague terms and instead focuses on its impact on the girl and her family. With an undeniably appealing premise, strong actors and a director with an equally compelling track record, “How I Live Now” has the touchstones of a goldmine for specialty distributors.
SALES COMPANY: Protagonist Pictures
“Diana” (Director: Oliver Hirschbiegel)
WHY IT MIGHT SELL BIG: Hirschbiegel’s “Downfall” chronicled the last days of Adolph Hitler from his claustrophobic bunker, so he has a track record with successful biopics. “Diana,” screening in the market, focuses on the final two years of Princess Diana’s life, including her romance with a surgeon and her campaign against landmines. With Naomi Watts in the title role, the movie has huge commercial potential — at least in theory.
SALES COMPANY: Embankment Films
“Moebius” (Director: Kim Ki-duk)
WHY IT MIGHT SELL BIG: The Korean director has maintained a significant following for years and has shown no signs of slowing down. Last year’s grotesque family crime drama “Pieta” won the top award at Venice and was shortlisted for the Academy Awards. “Moebius,” another Cannes market entry, finds Kim returning to family drama turf with a project in which the boundary-pushing director may go even further than usual: The premise hints at ancestral overtones involving, according to official notes, “a father driven into desire, a son coveting that of his father’s, and the sorrowful maternity that brings them into tragedy.” Though that might limit its appeal, some distributors may see potential for another foreign language Oscar campaign.
SALES COMPANY: Finecut