Focus' 'Biutiful' sells well internationally

Javier Bardem pic received mixed reactions during Cannes

LONDON -- Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's "Biutiful" received a mixed bag of notices after unspooling In Competition during the Festival de Cannes, but the Javier Bardem starrer has lived up to its name for sales label Focus Features International.

Alison Thompson, president of international sales and distribution at Focus, said Inarritu's emotionally intense, jagged-edged tone poem sparked good old-fashioned competition among buyers across a slew of major territories.

Thompson said offers for the Spanish-language film came thick and fast in Latin America, Italy and Spain. Sun Distribution emerged victorious for LatAm territories, clutching a deal memo.

In Italy and Spain, Thompson said the decision was made not to push it out through deals struck with independents, opting instead for Focus' parent company Universal to put its not inconsiderable marketing and distribution muscle behind "Biutiful" in those two territories.

"Its boxoffice prospects in those two territories are big, so we wanted to maximize them with an Universal-backed rollout," she said.

Thompson also said the title sold to Canal Plus-owned Optimum Releasing for the U.K., and Prokino snared German rights. Other multiple-territory deals also include A Film taking the movie across Benelux and Nordisk freezing out other bidders for Scandinavian rights.

As a litmus test for whether the marketplace is recovering slightly and minimum guarantees are returning to something approaching sensible levels, the international sales activity throws out some positive signals.

Thompson said dealmaking in Southeast Asia had increased, with Serenity taking the movie for Taiwan and IPA sealing a deal for Thailand. Edko snapped the picture for Hong Kong, and final negotiations are ongoing to sell the movie to a Japanese distributor. An Australasian deal also is being ironed out, she said.

"(Japan's) a country that has been hard to sell to in recent markets," Thompson said.
"Biutiful" also sold to Shani Films in Israel, Odeon in Greece and Monopole Pathe in Switzerland.

As for China, Focus for now is continuing its broad policy of not selling titles there. But Thompson said internal discussions are ongoing in the wake of changes to Chinese rules governing distribution regulations.

Focus is busily assessing how to exploit its body of films in China if and when it finally decides to begin trading. The company likely will sell a package of catalog titles or strike deals on a film-by-film basis.

CAA, which is handling U.S. rights to "Biutiful," has not yet concluded a deal with a domestic buyer.