U.S. buyers scrutinizing Cannes selections

'Dr. Parnassus,' 'Agora' among films generating interest

Just hours after the Festival de Cannes announced its main selections, buyers in the U.S. were scrutinizing the titles for the juiciest acquisition targets.

Their consensus? A slate of high-quality but commercially tricky fare.

That, of course, has been the hallmark of Cannes for a number of years. But while every fest seems to yield tiles that execs quietly salivate over or strategize about, this year brings a very small number that has them licking their chops.

Topping that list are films from two auteurs: Terry Gilliam and Alejandro Amenabar, who will debut "The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus" and "Agora," respectively.

The former has generated intense interest for nearly a year and a half, when Heath Ledger died in the middle of production and stars such as Jude Law and Johnny Depp stepped in to take his place.

Gilliam has had a mixed track record at the boxoffice with movies like "Tideland," but the pic will get the full-on push from Cinetic, which will be selling North American rights.

The John Sloss-led company will be able to mine a number of aspects about the film -- most notably the media that will come both from the star power and the Ledger factor.

Amenabar, the Chilean-born director who debuted with the Spanish-language "Abre Los Ojos" (the basis for Cameron Crowe's "Vanilla Sky") a decade ago and followed it up with Nicole Kidman hit "The Others" and Oscar winner "The Sea Inside," returns with his fourth feature.

This time, he's going big-canvas with a movie that stars Rachel Weisz in a period drama about Roman Egypt that is believed to have high commercial potential.

Still, the Telecinco-produced movie rang up a budget in the $70 million range, which could put a high price tag on U.S. rights.

Also on buyers' shortlist are a trio of specialized filmmakers who have crossed over in the U.S. but who, in this difficult sales climate, may find it tricky to land a blockbuster deal.

Lars Von Trier will debut the English-language "Antichrist," a picture with horror elements starring Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg; film vets say it's a title that could appeal to buyers who traditionally might not have bought a pic by the Danish auteur.

Meanwhile, Ken Loach's soccer-themed "Looking for Eric" tells more a comedic tale than the political-minded filmmaker has in the past, though execs note that his limited boxoffice appeal in the U.S. could be a hindrance on a big domestic deal.

And Andrea Arnold, the Oscar winner who showed promise with her feature debut, "Red Road," two years ago, is believed to have a potential breakout in the dysfunctional-family drama "Fish Tank." if sales reps play their cards right it could be seen as another "The Squid and the Whale," also a story about a quirky family, which earned $7 million in 2005.

If sales are slow, it would continue a recent pattern on the Croisette. Last year saw big hopes coming into the festival but very few big sales.

Among the more prominent deals were those made by Sony Pictures Classics, which picked up Israeli animated doc "Waltz With Bashir," Charlie Kaufman's directorial debut, "Synecdoche, NY," Palme d'Or winner "The Class" and James Toback's boxing doc "Tyson."

IFC made a number of pickups too, including Arnaud Desplechin's drama "A Christmas Tale" and, several months after the fest, Steven Soderbergh's two-part historical drama "Che."