Euro auteurs exploit genre tastes

The Marche is awash in the blood of the undead

CANNES -- Vampires, ghosts and gangsters aren't the characters you'd expect to find in cerebral European art house cinema. But driven by market demand and a desire to escape the boxoffice ghetto to which serious film is often condemned, European auteurs are increasingly turning to genre thrills to reach a crossover audience.

The Marche du Film is awash in the blood of the undead -- with a fist full of vampire art house titles on display, including NonStop's "Not Like Others," Bavaria's "Let the Right One In" and Celluloid Dreams' just-announced vamp comedy "Hello Darkness."

And it's not just bloodsuckers that are in demand. The genre trend extends to supernatural thrillers -- see Finnish period spook story "Sauna," German mystery "Kaifeck Murder" or Swiss rural gothic title "The Valley of Fears" -- and gangster-themed films such as the Match Factory's "Chicko" and "Love & Other Crimes."

These are not straight-to-video shockers or B-movie wannabees but intelligent pictures with strong art house credentials, often featuring directors and cast with a cachet among highbrow audiences. Even this year's Cannes Competition lineup includes "Three Monkeys," a noir-style thriller from Turkey's Nuri Bilge Ceylan, heretofore better known for introspective melodrama.

"There used to be a time when art house directors could finance their films even if no one ended up seeing them," NonStop managing director Michael Werner said. "Those days, thankfully, are over. By adding genre elements, art house directors are trying to find a wider audience to explore some of the same themes."

Spain has shown how profitable genre cross-over can be, with a string of hit horror titles including "The Orphanage," "Rec" and "The Devil's Backbone." And Asia has never had a problem mixing high auteurism with low genre thrills -- as evidenced by the movies of Chan-wook Park and Johnnie To.

"That's the way the market is going and even those aren't my kind of films I've had to pick up a few for my slate," said one German sales agent. "Horror films, thrillers, mysteries -- that's what successful art house looks like these days."