03 August, 2010

Mid-Summer Report: European Films On North American Screens

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

The summer film season in North America is usually filled with a mix of Hollywood big budget special-effects epics or low-brow buddy comedies. Despite the impressive box office take of such SFX films as INCEPTION and SALT (and the latest in the vampires-are-people-too franchise THE TWILIGHT SAGA: ECLIPSE), this summer has also been marked by various big budget duds like the Tom Cruise-actioner KNIGHT AND DAY, the M. Night Shymalan mystical mess THE LAST AIRBENDER and the Nicolas Cage-train wreck THE SORCER'S APPRENTICE.

Summer is becoming very American indie friendly (with such highlights as PLEASE GIVE, THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT, WINTER'S BONE and CYRUS keeping the indie flame alive) but it also is proving to be a congenial environment for "counter programming" of international cinema for those cinephiles who are longing for the big screen experience but not content with the Hollywood brain-drain output.

European films are doing surprisingly well and are indeed prolific on North American screens this summer, and several have become bonafide box office hits. Topping the list (as they are everywhere in the world) are the two Swedish film adapations of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO and THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE. The films have created a profitable franchise for fledgling specialty distributor Music Box Films, which will also distribute the final film of the Stieg Larrson trilogy later this year (as well as the French gangster epic MESRINE).

Equally impressive is the performance is the lush Italian melodrama I AM LOVE by director Luca Guadagnino. The Tilda Swinton-swooner, still in release after 5 weeks, has already posted close to $5 million in box office receipts....quite impressive for a sub-titled film. The film is part of an Italian renaissance that has been in full swing since the releases of IL DIVO and GOMORRAH.

French cinema, the leader in European film penetration of the North American market, is amply represented on screens this summer. In recent weeks, such impressive French titles as FAREWELL by Christian Carion, MADEMOISELLE CHAMBON by Stephane Brize, THE CONCERT by Radu Mihaileanu and WILD GRASS by the iconic Alain Resnais have made an impression with both critics and audiences. The documentary HENRI-GEORGE CLOUZOT'S INFERNO, an assemblage of existing film material of an uncompleted 1964 by the film master, is another French title worthy of note, as is the European pudding COCO CHANEL and IGOR STRAVINSKY by Jan Kounen.

Other European films that have opened to great reviews and should do respectable business include the Greek dysfunctional family dramedy DOGTOOTH by Yorgos Lanthimos, the scrappy Irish coming-of-age drama KISSES by Lance Daly and the Viking epic VALHALLA RISING by Danish bad boy Nicolas Winding Refn.

Late summer is traditionally the time when even more European releases are presented, with the assumption that the Hollywood big budget extravaganzas will have loosened their box office domination, so look for more titles to make their way to the big screen. I will publish a report in mid September about the final 6 weeks of summer releases. All in all, European cinema (or a fraction of it, tant pis) is doing quite well....a good sign for the future.

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