French films strike musical note

Genre's renaissance coincides with boom in rising young talent

French filmmakers are hoping that a boom in production of homegrown musical movies will spur a chorus line of ticket sales across the globe.

"Musical comedies are to adults what fairy tales are to children. These are situations that we know could never exist in real life, but we like to believe in them anyway. It's a little dose of hope," filmmaker Stephane Kazandjian says.

Kazandjian's latest feature, "Modern Love," will hit French theaters in March. Martin Rappeneau, an increasingly popular up-and-coming musician, lent his original lyrics to the ensemble comedy about intersecting love stories.

"Modern Love" is produced by Galatee Films, which also recently saw filming end on Christophe Barratier's "Faubourg 36" in Prague and Paris this summer.

After "Les Choristes" (The Chorus) earned €12.4 million ($17.6 million) at the international boxoffice and a nomination for best foreign film Oscar in 2004, Barratier is back with a story of three unemployed performers in working-class Paris during the time of the Popular Front who decide to take over a music hall.

A star-powered cast featuring Clovis Cornillac, Gerard Jugnot and Kad Merad means Galatee and the film's distributor, Pathe, are hoping that Barratier's latest effort will see similar strong results in France and abroad.

"It's a Parisian subject but a universal film," Barratier says.

"A film about music is universal," Romanian-born French director Radu Mihaileanu agrees. Mihaileanu's English-language musical comedy "The Concert" is in development at Les Productions du Tresor.

Christophe Honore, who had critics singing from the sheet at this year's Festival de Cannes with "Love Songs," says: "Musicals make a lot of money at the boxoffice because there's this idea of transforming reality."

Honore's "Love Songs," about mourning, mortality and menage-a-trois, sold 350,000 tickets in France during its theatrical run.

"There's a real tradition of musical comedy at the heart of French cinema," says Honore, who wrote the script based on songs written by his friend, musician Alex Beaupain.

"The film was a way to turn Alex's songs into images," Honore says.

Beaupain's soundtrack has become a phenomenon in France, with more than 30,000 copies sold to date, topping the online music downloading charts even before its physical release.

"Thanks to a recent boom of young, talented French singers, French music has become fashionable again," Honore says.

It means Gallic filmmakers can capitalize not only on the success of a film but also on the success of the musical talent involved.

Young songbird Olivia Ruiz, whose latest album "La Femme Chocolat" has been at the top of the French music charts, stars in Armand Lemeloise's "J'ai mis mon Coeur dans ces roses," a modern-day musical fairy tale about a night taxi driver who falls in love with a prostitute.

Singer Cali will star in and compose the music for Philippe Muyl's musical comedy "Magique!," the first official title under the Paramount Pictures France label.

Set for a release here late next year, the €6.8 million ($9.7 million) movie co-starring rising actress Marie Gillain, marks Paramount's effort to appeal to a wider, more family-oriented audience.

And Etienne Chatiliez is hoping for boxoffice gold with his big-budget musical comedy "Agathe Clery." Valerie Lemercier stars as a racist marketing director at a cosmetics company who develops a skin-darkening disease and ironically becomes a black woman. Produced by Charles Gassot for Produire à Paris with additional funding from TF1 Films, the €22.5 million ($30.8 million) production features major musical numbers, including one scene set in a Eurostar terminal that involved taking over the massive Gare du Nord train station for filming.