French Films Pop at Toronto Film Festival

French filmmakers and sales agents will hit Toronto looking for a sale, great buzz and, above all, a lasting foothold into the U.S. market. Because a welcome perch across the pond can make all the difference, especially given the recent crunch on the international scene. 

“Today, the market is extremely polarized,” says Alice Lesort, who heads sales for Les Films du Losange. “There are still films that perform extremely well abroad, but the number of films has shrunk; there are still films that take the spotlight, but the spotlight now focuses on fewer of them.”

Bringing the Léa Seydoux-led “One Fine Morning” to Toronto after previous berths in Cannes and Telluride and an upcoming slot in New York, director Mia Hansen-Løve has proven an outlier several times over. For one thing, at only 41-years-old, she’s already made eight features; for another, all but one of those features has seen U.S. distribution.

Soon, the filmmaker could break out even further, as Sony Pictures Classics will give “One Fine Morning” an awards qualifying run after picking it up out of Cannes, where the critically acclaimed family drama also sold across 70 international territories.

“I don’t know how common it is for a director of her age to be so internationally established,” says Lesort, who has handled sales on the filmmaker’s four most recent features. “Filmmakers can sometimes get a worldwide buzz [on a project], but Mia, from one film to the next, has developed a loyal international following.”

“[Building that] has been a long-term project,” Lesort continues. “Each film built on the previous one and that’s all because very early on, the US press and festivals took an interest in her.”

And so, when breaking a new generation of Gallic auteurs, the sales agent will not lose any time waiting. “It’s no longer enough to just be selected for a festival,” says Lesort. “Not when distributors, the press, and everyone else is more selective. Instead you have to position young directors at an earlier point, particularly in the U.S.”

For Lola Quivoron’s “Rodeo,” an edgy first feature that won the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize at Cannes, Les Films du Losange started a promotional campaign weeks before the festival, releasing a teaser online and teaming with marketing and PR firm Cinetic to target the English language press; they also held press screenings in New York, Los Angeles and London ahead of Cannes. It would seem the gambit paid off: “Rodeo” would sell to Music Box Films after the festival, while director Lola Quivoron is now readying a U.S. press and festival tour.

“We encourage all young directors to get out there,” says Lesort. “Not only is it very important for the success of their films, but it is also critical for their future careers.”

Within the U.S., a shifting demographic could open new opportunities for exporters with younger skewing titles.

“All distributors are in the process of trying to court a younger audience,” says IFC Films president Arianna Bocco. “The younger audiences are very engaged right now, they’re the ones driving theatrical. [And] I think those audiences will absolutely come out to see foreign language films.”

A longtime buyer of French fare – although the number of pickups has decreased alongside falling box office revenue — IFC Films tries to play a longer game with its acquisitions. “We’re constantly trying to support filmmakers,” adds Bocco. “We want to help them have a career here, to help them penetrate the US, because success in the US translates to other countries as well.”

In 2011, IFC Films picked up Mia Hansen-Løve’s “Goodbye First Love,” followed by 2016’s Berlin prizewinner “Things to Come” and last year’s “Bergman Island,” while each time using its New York-based IFC Center to help build her following with filmmaker-hosted programing and retrospectives.

“IFC Films likes to invest in filmmakers,” Bocco continues. “When you know a filmmaker you can work with them [in a better way]. With Mia, we know her so well, and we know what festivals might take her movie; we know who her champions are and who we can call on for support.”

After picking up Audrey Diwan’s “Happening” last October, IFC relaunched the film at this past Sundance, taking the director on a five-month publicity tour that doubled as an introduction to the American audience.  “Her filmmaking and the fact that she won Venice gave us an entrée into the market to say here is the next big voice,” Bocco explains.

“She’s a former journalist, so she knew how to market a movie and how to play the game. It was really an incredible relationship because we didn’t have to give her media training. She understood how to speak with the American press.”

“If we can work with Audrey again we absolutely will” says Bocco. “We were in the trenches together, and that really bonds you. Having shared experience makes you want to work together again.”

As for TIFF, with more than 50 majority and minority French productions screening across the festival’s various sections, this year’s TIFF offers a robust selection of Gallic fare. Alongside Alice Winocour’s “Paris Memories” and Rebecca Zlotowski’s “Other People’s Children” — which both star Virginie Efira — and Alice Diop’s “Saint Omer,” here are a number of other can’t-miss titles playing in Toronto.

Special Presentation

Driving Madeleine

Dir. Christian Carion

En route to her retirement home, 92-year-old Madeleine (Line Renaud) has a taxi driver (Dany Boon) take her past the various sites that have marked her life.

Sales: Pathé Films

Platform

Hawa

Dir. Maïmouna Doucouré

A soon-to-be-orphaned adolescent girl, in need of a new guardian, sets out to meet her dream adoptive mother: Michelle Obama.

Sales: Amazon Prime Video

The Gravity

Dir. Cedric Ido

A sci-fi thriller following warring clans in a Paris suburb suddenly confronted with an intergalactic disturbance to their normal social order.

Sales: Kinology

Discovery

Carmen

Dir. Benjamin Millepied

A reimagining of the Bizet opera, moved to the US-Mexican desert, scored by Nicholas Britell, and starring Melissa Barrera and Paul Mescal. 

Sales: TF1 Studios – Newenconnect

Contemporary World Cinema

Alam

Dir. Firas Khoury

Five students struggle with the challenges of maintaining Palestinian identity while attending an Israeli high school.

Sales: MPM Premium

Blind Willows, Sleeping Women

Dir. Pierre Földes

An animated adaptation of three Haruki Murakami short stories that recreates the Japanese author’s subdued surrealism.

Sales: The Match Factory

The Origin of Evil

Dir. Sebastian Marnier

A woman in dire financial straits tracks down her estranged father, who has become fantastically wealthy.

Sales: Charades

Winter Boy

Dir. Christophe Honoré

After suffering a devastating loss, a teenage boy finds himself adrift in Paris trying to make sense of his life. Juliette Binoche co-stars.

Sales: Pyramide International

The Worst Ones

Dir. Lise Akoka, Romane Gueret

A self-reflexive drama about four troubled youths cast in a film. Winner of the 2022 Un Certain Regard prize.

Sales: Pyramide International

TIFF Docs

Casa Susanna

Dir. Sébastien Lifshitz

The story of a Catskills haven for trans-women and gender nonconforming men during the 1950s and 60s.

Sales: PBS International

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