Cannes 2010: Can the sales market go from ugly to ‘Biutiful’?


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About halfway through the Cannes Film Festival, there are, amazingly, still no sales of films playing in any of the festival sections. Such is the frozen tundra of (a certain part of) the indie business these days. (The market, where many mainstream films are sold and where much of the business takes place, isn’t faring much better, at least on the domestic side; it’s tire-kicking time and not much more.)

But two festival movies could go within days, or at least before the end of the festival -- Mike Leigh’s ‘Another Year,’ the poignant human drama from the king of that genre, and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s ‘Biutiful,’ a charged Spanish-language tale about a troubled man slowly dying, which premiered Monday night to a warm audience response if not an equally hot-blooded critical one (more on that one Wednesday).


Several buyers are in the mix on each of these titles, but sources and the smart money have anointed a favorite to land each of them. Sony Pictures Classics will in all probability walk away with ‘Another Year’ -- the company is keenly interested, it has more money to play with than the smaller indie players also circling, and it can make a case that it will give the film a classic studio specialty-division release.

‘Biutiful,’ which marks the first film for Inarritu since his surprise globally themed hit ‘Babel’ more than three years ago, is a tough commercial sell, if also a movie that comes with prestige to burn. It’s Harvey Weinstein (rumored to be in the mix on several other titles) who could wind up snatching the film.

A purchase from The Weinstein Company would make sense on several levels. Inarritu is the kind of high-class filmmaker Weinstein loves being in business with -- the mogul was in fact the primary entity with whom to make such deals before the specialty boom and bust several years ago. And star Javier Bardem is the kind of glamorous but elite performer around whom Weinstein enjoys building an awards campaign. It’s always about the negotiations at these things -- and given the rough market, expect discussions to bog down over price -- but at least one of these companies will probably walk away with its prey.

If these deals happen, the good news for film fans is that the movies will get a release and play theatrically sometime within the next year. The fact that they will go for comparatively less money, and have fewer buyers competing for them, is probably bad news. It means that the winning companies can commit to spending less on marketing, which in turns means that fewer people are likely to hear about the films, which could be bad for these films and high-end independent film overall. But in a cold climate, any heat is good heat.

-- Steven Zeitchik, reporting from Cannes, France


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