Paris Rendez-Vous lures buyers

World premieres, stars on tap for four-day Gallic event

PARIS -- The 9th annual Rendez-Vous with French Cinema looks set for a bumper edition this weekend, with a handful of high-profile movies making their world premieres before buyers at the annual Paris screenings.

About 350 mainly European buyers are due in the French capital for the screenings, which kick off Friday and run through Jan 15. Among titles unspooling for the first time is Regis Wargnier's thriller "Pars Vite et Reviens Tard" (The Seeds of Death), with the director and principal cast due to attend a Saturday night gala screening of the Gaumont picture.

Other world premieres include Frederic Schoendoerffer's gritty underworld thriller "Crime Insiders," starring Benoit Magimel and Beatrice Dalle, and Robert Louis Stephenson adaptation "Treasured Island," starring Gerard Jugnot (both sold by TF1 International); Pathe's 19th-century tale of a peasant's revenge, "Jacquou le Croquant," starring Gaspard Ulliel (who plays the young Hannibal Lecter in the forthcoming "Hannibal Rising"), and "Contre-enquete" (Counter Investigation), the first directorial effort by Franck Mancuso; and "Don't Touch the Ax," the latest offering from New Wave veteran Jacques Rivette, sold by Les Films du Losange.

Among local talent due to meet distributors and journalists over the long weekend are Alain Resnais, Juliette Binoche, Jose Garcia, Isabelle Huppert, Daniele Thompson and director Guillaume Canet, fresh from his successful thriller "Tell No One."

French sales companies also will use the occasion to begin touting new projects ahead of next month's European Film Market in Berlin.

More than 100 journalists are due to take part in what is no doubt the largest international junket for Gallic cinema outside of Cannes.

"It's a very efficient event for us," said Marc Piton, general manager of organizer Unifrance, the state-funded body which promotes French cinema abroad. "We're not drowned in a bigger festival, participants only talk about French cinema for four days."

This year's edition has decamped from its previous base off the Champs Elysees to the Grand Hotel near the Paris Opera, where the market activity and interviews will be held. Screenings are just down the street at a nearby Gaumont cineplex.

The Rendez-Vous will wind up with a Monday-night party for 1,400 guests in the Showcase, a new venue located in a vast former boathouse under the Alexander III bridge.

Local industry reps at the confab should be in buoyant mood, with French cinema coming off a bumper year in 2006 that saw Gallic films snag a 43% market share in the territory -- a 20-year best.

"With what's coming up in the next six months, I think French cinema will have a strong presence overseas in 2007," Piton said.

Unifrance saw its annual budget for this year swell by 3% to more than $12 million, and plans to renew efforts to conquer the Chinese market this year as well as carry out "seduction operations" by taking Gallic talent to India and Vietnam to drum up interest in French cinema.
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