While many festival buyers have been complaining that there isn’t much left to acquire in the Cannes Film Festival, Sony Pictures Classics has not only scooped up what is believed to be the leading contender for the Palme d’Or — delightful zeitgeist drama/comedy “Toni Erdmann,” from German director Maren Ade — but Studio Ghibli’s animated feature “The Red Turtle,” which debuted yesterday in Un Certain Regard. Both films will likely wind up in the Oscar race, assuming Germany submits “Erdmann” for the foreign Oscar; “The Red Turtle” has scored raves and is a likely animated contender.
SPC acquired all rights in North America and Latin America to Oscar-winning short director Michael Dudok de Wit’s animated film, which is produced by Wild Bunch and Studio Ghibli in association with French Why Not Productions. When a man is shipwrecked on a tropical island inhabited by skittling crabs and squawking birds, he encounters a gigantic red turtle. SPC praised the movie’s “fantasy, poetry, and awesome visual beauty.”
The duo came into the festival with Competition title “Julieta,” from Pedro Almodóvar, and Paul Verhoeven’s violent French-language thriller “Elle,” which premieres Saturday. They did not bring, as they had expected to, Woody Allen’s “Cafe Society,” which Amazon Studios took off the table with a $20 million offer. After Allen uncharacteristically went over-budget with the film, “Amazon came to us,” the writer-director said at Cannes. “We usually work with Sony Classics, we are very happy with them… The money was not just tempting, it was irresistible.”
In an era when foreign-language movies are a tough sell in the North American market, SPC’s Michael Barker and Tom Bernard agree that while the numbers of marketable foreign-language movies at Cannes vary from year to year, there is an audience for films like Oscar-winner “Son of Saul,” which they bought at Cannes last year, to Almodóvar’s “Julieta.”
“Subtitles won’t prevent people from going to see Verhoeven’s picture,” he added. “There are few stars any more in terms of directors and countries.” With “Son of Saul,” “the subtitle barrier has been broken. People can read.”
Barker and Bernard believe that strong art films can succeed at the North American box office. “If it’s a good movie and the word gets out,” said Barker, “the grosses will grow.”
The older audiences that support the specialty market will keep going out to the cinemas, they insisted. “They always replace themselves,” said Bernard. “When we get to that age in our society today, you want to go to special events. People don’t have the time to go when they have kids.”
“With the kids out of the house,” said Barker, “you have a little extra time, and you start going to the movies again.”