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ISA of the Day: Coproduction Office: 3 Festival Films

Photo of Sydney Levine By Sydney Levine | Sydneys Buzz May 20, 2010 at 7:18AM

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From Cannes...

In the 1980s coproductions were not very fashionable, a fact that I as an American acquisitions executive never thought about. They had been more popular in the 70s, mosly between Italy and France or France and Germany (with Anatole Dauman working with Volker Schlondorff on this year’s retrospective film The Tin Drum or with Wim Wenders). Perhaps 1 out of 10 or even 1 out of 20 films were coproductions. Now in France alone, 1 out of every 2 films is a coproduction and for the small territories, all the films are coproductions. This topic of coproduction is one of the most crucial subjects when looking at the state of art house films today. The subject will be revisited in my blogs, and especially here in Cannes where all the international film entities meet. The subject was brought up by Philippe Bober of the Coproduction Office but has not ceased to be the center of many discussions taking place throughout this Cannes festival and market.

Meanwhile Coproduction office has three films in various parts of the festival: In Competition: Tender Son - The Frankenstein Project; Un Certain Regard: Aurora; Directors' Fortnight: Le Quattro Volte

Philippe Bober and I discussed his philosophy and the goals of the Coproduction Office for a good 40 minutes which included an extremely well examined background of the international films business for the past 40 years up to today. We’ve known each other more than 10 years and yet this was an eye opening experience. At age 22 after graduation, Philippe moved from Paris to Berlin where he worked for a year at a TV station and for 6 months as the assistant to a producer. He realized that there were lots of possibilities to make European films which not being utilized. At age 24 he opened his own company and called it Coproduction Office because as a coproducer he helped raise funds for productions outside of the country of the film’s origins. His first film was Europa (aka Zentropa) by Lars von Trier in 1991. How vividly I remember coming out of its Cannes premiere with my acquisitions colleagues and our long and puzzled discussions of the film for days afterward! I did not know then that he had raised the production financing outside of Scandinavia (from France and Germany), in fact I never questioned how the film was financed at all. I only knew that Lars von Trier had arrived on the scene.

Speaking of European coproductions, his studies of Lumiere’s database shows that every second film selling over 1million tickets in Europe (outside of its own country of origin) is an “auteur” film: 3 films of Lars von Trier, 5 of Almodovar, 2 or 3 of Michael Haneke, and so on for Emir Kusturica, Nanni Moretti, Ken Loach. The other half is comprised of mostly French or English popular comedies or higher budget productions such as Asterix. This study does not include Hollywood films which by nature have a competitive advantage and comprise an entirely different economic model. This is a study of European films in Europe itself. The statistics say films with a recognizable handwriting (a signature or a brand if you will), in which everyone knows the name of the director are the ones that sell best outside of their home territory. Out of this evolves his philosophy and goals that people don’t only want to see stories alone, but want to recognize the handwriting they’re written in.

In 1997 Philippe set up Essential Filmproduktion in Berlin, run by Susanne Marian. They have (co) produced films by Jessica Hausner (Lovely Rita; Hotel; Lourdes), Roy Andersson (Songs From the Second Floor; You, the Living), and will be represented this year in Cannes with three films: Aurora by Cristi Puiu, Tender Son – The Frankenstein Project by Kornél Mundruczó, and Le quattro volte by Michelangelo Frammartino.

If you look at the Coproduction’s profile on Cinando, it’s very short: “International sales and production company for a select number of daring and engaging films. Formed in 1987.”

Thinking of such films as Japon or The Death of Mr. Lazarescu by Cristi Puiu whose film Aurora is in Un Certain Regard, I asked Philippe what he considered “daring” and “engaging” (Sex and death are daring subjects). I was surprised by his answer which he had to think carefully about, in the focused and quiet style that is so uniquely his. Obviously to be engaging is important for sales and for spectators. Part of Philippe’s work with the directors is to make the work more engaging in writing the stories, in shooting them and in editing them. His great interest is in images, moving images especially, so in film he likes directors who ask themselves about the “mise en scene” (the visual setting of action into scenes), who ask how cinema language and grammar is determined for their stories. He likes directors who dare to challenge cinema ideas in certain areas, and not necessarily in content. Nor is he interested in just form. The subject must have content. And what he does to help is never to censure the content but to help shape it into engaging styles to capture the audience interest. The challenge to film language often challenges the point of view of the story and content.

For example, in Ulrich Seidl’s Paradies, now in production, there is a woman who finds love with African beach boys. Ulrich challenges the conventions of society. As in his first film The Ball, a film about the 'students ball' in Horn, the little Austrian town Seidl grew up, he portrays the young débutantes as well as the local notables, all of them eagerly involved in maintaining the stiff and stifling ritual. In Import/ Export about internet sex, or immigration, his interest in the subject, and his great research keeps him close to the original material, to real people. So he has developed ways to work with that, shooting a lot of film because he never knows if the actors will show up, will perform well, when he’ll be able to return to the scenes. This leads to different editing processes than with films with set shooting schedules, etc. In this case, content dictates the way to shoot and to edit the form of the film.

Philippe works with people with a distinctive handwriting and increases their heft. It takes 10 to 20 years before4 they have such a name. Jessica Hausner’s Lourdes is the most successful of her films which began 12 years ago. They have been working together since 1999. Lourdes, an audience favorite costs more than she could have raised earlier. Kornél MUNDRUCZÓ, the director of this year’s competition film TENDER SON - The Frankenstein Project has worked with Philippe for ten years. This film will bring the audiences to him, even though it’s actually his second film in competition in Cannes.

Philippe’s job is to bring Auteurs to audiences via sales and marketing. His work with Auteurs is to help them make decisions which will not compromise their art but decisions about how to make the films they want during scripting, casting and editing more accessible to the audiences. One example on casting to make greater ticket sales is to see which past films made what boxoffice numbers in which territory. But there is no such recipe for scripting or editing in terms of making the message and story clearer to the audience without censuring. Sometimes the process takes two years and sometimes it can take up to 10 years.


Aurora is playing this Friday by Christi Puiu of Romania whose Death of Mr. Lazarescu was a masterpiece. It was able to captivate an audience even though, for an entire hour, the main character is in a coma, because the audience was fascinated by the action happening around the patient. It required a very different cinematic language and mandated creating a captivating side of real life with long shots, taking the audience into the story with less than 100 cuts.

Aurora, produced by Cristi Puiu's company Mandragora together with Philippe’s German production company Essential Filmproduktion and Philippe's French company Parisienne de Production is one of six feature length stories from the outskirts of Bucharest which, in the director’s own words:

"aim to provide insight into a certain mindset focusing on human relationships and how distorted and twisted they can become in a country that is in a state of permanent crisis. They imitate Balzac’s structure: the characters’ cross one another’s paths, and reciprocally perturb each other. Each of these six tales takes place within a period of 24 hours. I am dedicating this series of six tales to Éric Rohmer. It is a tribute to the director of the Six Moral Tales, who is one of my spiritual masters. I owe to him my interest in clear expression and essential narrative, stripped of Hollywood’s grandiloquence…I consider cinema more as a tool for the investigation of reality.

They tell six stories:
The story of a taxi driver
The story of Aunt Geta
The story with the ambulance – The Death Of Mr Lazarescu
The story of the Petra couple
The story of sharing - Aurora
The story of naked Flavia

It is part of the series just like The Death Of Mr Lazarescu. It is an unfinished series, a query about love on the outskirts of Bucharest where I grew up. And given that love has many facets, I will continue to express what I think and what I have discovered. The Death Of Mr Lazarescu was a story about love for one’s fellow man, based on a true story. Aurora is a film based on several true stories, it’s a composite work. Even though The Death Of Mr Lazarescu matters a lot to me, (I had my grandfather in mind), Aurora is more a film about me. I don’t know where it fits into the series, if it is the second installment, the fourth or the fifth, but it’s the film I wanted to make now. The Death Of Mr Lazarescu, was dedicated to Thanatos, and my next film may be dedicated to Eros. Aurora is a film about the missing link between Eros and Thanatos."


Here is the entire support credit listing:
AURORA by Cristi PUIU ( 2010) ROMANIA - Drama - Budget : $2.7 million
Supported by / Avec le soutien de : Centrul National al
Cinematografiei Romania, Eurimages, SC Serv Invest SRL,
OFC Section Cinéma, Centre National de la Cinématographie
In collaboration with / En collaboration avec : ARTE France Cinéma,
ZDF/ ARTE, Societatea Romana de Televiziune, TSR/SSR,
HBO Romania

A Co-Production / Une coproduction : Mandragora, Parisienne
de Production, Bord Cadre Films, Essential Filmproduktion
Co-Producers / Coproducteurs: Philippe Bober, Dan Wechsler
Producers / Producteurs : Anca Puiu, Bobby Paunescu
Written and Directed by / Écrit et réalisé par : Cristi Puiu

See his films Aurora, this Friday in Un Certain Regard

May 14 11:00 DEBUSSY
May 15 13:00 BAZIN
May 18 10:00 OLYMPIA 7

And see Le Quattro Volte on Sunday in Directors' Fortnight
May 14 10:00 RIVIERA 3 (No Press, buyers only)
May 15 14:15 PALAIS C (No Press, buyers only)
May 16 09:00 THEATRE CROISETTE
May 16 17:00 THEATRE CROISETTE
May 18 14:15 OLYMPIA 7
May 19 11:30 ARCADES 1

And see Tender Son - The Frankenstein Project in Competition
May 22 12:00 LUMIERE (Ticket Required)
May 22 22:30 LUMIERE (Ticket Required)

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