Cannes: Focus Nabs Matthias Schoenaerts-Jason Mitchell Drama 'Mustang' (Exclusive)

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From left: Matthias Schoenarts, Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre, Jason Mitchell

Developed through the Sundance Labs, the film will mark the feature directing debut of French actress Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre.

In one of the first major acquisitions on the ground in Cannes, Focus Features has nabbed worldwide rights, excluding France, to Mustang, a drama that will star Matthias Schoenaerts and Jason Mitchell and mark the feature directing debut of French actress Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre.

Written by de Clermont-Tonnerre, Mona Fastvold and Brock Norman Brock, the film centers on a convict named Roman (Schoenaerts) who is given the chance to participate in a rehabilitation therapy program training wild mustangs. With little connection to his fellow inmates, Roman struggles to communicate with the animals. Working alongside young convict Henry (Mitchell), Roman forges a strong bond with a particularly difficult mustang, which forces him to confront his harsh past and innermost demons.

Actress-turned-director de Clermont-Tonnerre, whose credits in front of the camera include The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, developed Mustang through the Sundance Labs and received the Sundance Institute/NHK Award for the project in 2015. Production on the English-language film will begin in September.

"Laure’s project is in the classic tradition of movies illuminating the connection between human nature and animal instinct," said Focus chairman Peter Kujawski. "Her vision for this project resonated powerfully to us, and the lead role is perfect for Matthias and his formidable talents."

In France, the film will be distributed by France 3, CanalPlus and Ad Vitam. Alain Goldman (La Vie en Rose) is producing through his company Legende, with Molly Hallam executive producing.

Though it has been a quiet Cannes market to date, Focus made a splash on Friday evening, unveiling plans for its documentary Pope Francis: A Man of His Word, directed by Wim Wenders (the film will enjoy the participation and cooperation of the popular pontiff). Focus also has Sofia Coppola's The Beguiled playing in competition at the festival.

Schoenaerts, who previously teamed with Focus on The Danish Girl, is one of the biggest stars in Europe, with credits that include Rust and Bone, Far From the Madding Crowd and the Oscar-nominated Bullhead. The Belgian actor has a number of high-profile films on the horizon, including Jennifer Lawrence starrer Red Sparrow and Russian submarine drama Kursk.

Mitchell is a fast-rising star in the U.S., after his breakout role as Eazy-E in Straight Outta Compton. He most recently appeared in the Warner Bros. tentpole Kong: Skull Island and stars in Kathryn Bigelow's upcoming Detroit. Mitchell is repped by UTA, Authentic Talent and Literary and Ziffren Brittenham.

Schoenaerts is handled by CAA and UBBA.

WME, MGMT Entertainment and UBBA represent de Clermont-Tonnerre.