By Tom Brueggemann | Thompson on Hollywood February 18, 2013 at 9:12PM
While it's been a spotty 2013 so far for new specialized openings, Sony Pictures Classics' Chilean-election drama (and Oscar nominee) "No" was a winner over the four-day holiday weekend in limited initial release, proving itself the strongest new art-house performer since "Quartet" last month, and falling only slightly below the first weekend of its fellow subtitled contender "Amour."
Fresh successful product is welcome, with few other recent films looking to have a shot of decent performance as they widen out. SPC's "The Gatekeepers" continues to show strength before it expands, while Weinstein's "Quartet" continues to add to its already impressive early numbers as it continues to increase its theater count.
Meantime "Amour" more than doubled its screen total as the Oscar race heads into its final week, with a mild response at best suggesting that it remains much more of a niche, limited appeal film than nearly all of it contenders. It will need some key victories to pass the $10 million mark ahead (which is what the other low-level Best Picture contender "Beasts of the Southern Wild" reached), though it has already achieved a level that few non-English language films do these days,
"No" (Sony Pictures Classics) - Metacritic score: 79; Festivals include: Cannes 12, Telluride 12, Toronto 12, New York 12, Sundance 13
$94,700 in 4 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $23,675
The third of this year's Oscar Foreign Language nominees to be released in the U.S. (after "A Royal Affair" and "Amour" - the other two will open after the awards) debuted to four-day numbers that put it into a level similar to other recent standout subtitled performers. The Chilean-film benefited from Gael Garcia Bernal starring (as an advertising exec who created the anti-government side of of a national referendum in the 1980s) as well as its nomination, but most important likely was the overall strong reviews.
Many nominees in this category - even winners - quite often open to lower grosses than these after already having received nominations, so this early success shows some interest that likely will translate into further performance as this expands (after the awards - only New York and Los Angeles audiences will have a chance to see it before Sunday). This received extensive festival playoff - the five major ones listed above are nearly unprecedented for a single film - but that doesn't guarantee ticket buyer interest.
Garcia Bernal continues to be a major draw in Spanish-language specialized films - he has previously appeared in six that have grossed over $5 million, as well as other successes in English-language efforts. This is a breakthrough for director Pablo Larrain as well as for a Chilean film. Its neighbor Argentina has been a long-time source of arthouse fare, but this looks like it will be the first Chilean break-through theatrical success in the U.S.
What comes next: SPC tends to widen its films more slowly than its counterparts, but with still not a lot of strong new product, this could potentially slowly advance to a decent $2 million + gross at a minimum over the next months, with some cross-over to Latino audiences adding even more.
"Like Someone in Love" (IFC) - Metacritic score: 73; Festivals include: Cannes 12, Toronto 12, New York 12
$26,314 in 3 theaters; PSA: $8,711
Leading Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami - internationally regarded as one of this generation's masters - had his biggest U.S. success last year with "Certified Copy," also handled by IFC (through its Sundance Selects label). That film, set in Italy and starring Juliet Binoche, opened to $77,000 in five theaters on its way to a $1,400,000 total, impressive for this challenging filmmaker.
"Like Someone in Love" took Kiarostami (backed by his French producers) to Japan, with unknown actors making the appeal more limited initially. This opened in three major theaters (two the same as "No") to far less gross than either his previous film or this week's competing entry.
What comes next: IFC plans on expanding this to 15 additional cities in the next couple weeks.
"Lore" (Music Box) - Week 2
$42,000 (est.) in 8 theaters (+2); PSA: S5,250; Cumulative: $90,000
Chicago was added to New York and Los Angeles this weekend, with the overall PSA plateauing at a still-modest level, but showing a strong hold in its initial markets. This German-language film from Australian director Cate Shortland had to overcome the Northeast blizzard last weekend, so this stablization comes as welcome news for Music Box.
What comes next: Other markets roll out starting Friday, with the end of World War II children's story possibly having broader appeal than its early dates showed based on the Chicago response.
"Caesar Must Die" (Adopt) - Week 2
$8,600 in 2 theaters (unchanged); PSA: $4,300; Cumulative: $28,451
Like "Lore," "Caesar" was its country's Oscar submission, though it also failed to make the final cut. From the acclaimed Taviani brothers, now in their 80s, it has elevated New York presence (the Lincoln Plaza and Film Forum), but is so far, even with decent reviews, not showing significant strength despite receiving consensus reviews close to what "No" got this weekend.
The film - a quasi-documentary capturing of long-term violent inmates in an Italian prison staging "Julius Caesar" - is the latest of several top quality films new distributor Adopt Films acquired at last year's Berlin (along with "Sister" and "Barbara.").
What comes next: None of these has yet broken through to the level of some other recent subtitled films, but all have shown a real interest in tackling acclaimed serious films that deserve national attention.