Chicago-based Music Box exhibitor William Schopf and his New York partner Arentz have done consistently well over the past five years by carefully picking up such foreign language fare as 2008's Tell No One and the exhaustingly successful Dragon Tattoo trilogy ($22 million U.S. total), often relatively obscure titles that others didn't appreciate. Protagonist Pictures CEO Ben Roberts picked Music Box over rival distributors because Arentz offered a robust theatrical release with an Oscar campaign for Weisz. "Rachel Weisz was a revelation," Arentz says. "She's been good in everything, but she really carried the movie, in a way reminiscent of the great stars of the 50s. She's come into her own as a major actress. It's a knockout, towering performance. It reminded me of some of great performances I've seen of Hedda Gabler." The movie itself "is so old-fashioned that it's avant garde, in very good ways. This movie was clearly directed by someone who has complete control over the medium: the acting and the score all came together."
Weisz’s tour-de-force performance carries Davies’ adaptation of the Terence Rattigan play The Deep Blue Sea, which is a gorgeously literate two-hander between an upper-class woman (Weisz) who leaves the constraints of being married to a stuffy judge to jump into adulterous bliss with a handsome, jovial World War II air force pilot (Hiddleston). But her passion for him is all-consuming, and ultimately she is trapped yet again in a situation that leaves her suicidal. (Trailer, reviews, and my interview with Weisz in Toronto are here.)
Arentz will release the film before year's end, but the over-crowded Manhattan corridor may dictate whether a December run will be strictly a qualifying one with a broader release in January. "We don't take on stuff we don't like and believe in," says Arentz, "just to fill in a VOD quota. You've got to respond to what you like. Sometimes that can lead you places that can be lonely at times." Arentz has dipped his toe in the foreign film Oscar race only once, with Empire Pictures' 2002 Oscar-nominated Twilight Samurai, which won an unprecedented 12 Japanese Academy Awards, but which lost the Oscar to French-Canadian Barbarian Invasions.
Even with Dragon Tattoo grosses in the bank, says Arentz, "you can't rest on your laurels very long. The tax man comes, a few mistakes and you're selling popcorn at a multiplex." So far in 2011 Potiche is Music Box's highest-grossing film, followed by several modest hits, including Dutch multi-generational women's picture Bride Flight, Cesar-winning French romcom The Names of Love, and Rene Ferret's Mozart's Sister; Raul Ruiz's last film, Mysteries of Lisbon, was handicapped by its four and a half hour running time; a six-hour version is set for home video release. "I'm happy to have done it," says Arentz, "he died two weeks after we opened, it was a good one to go out on." Also making its way around the country is a Toronto pickup from Djo Munga, the Congolese gangster noir Viva Riva!, and Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life is in its 4th week of limited release in NY and LA.
Still to come this election season is Cannes pick-up The Conquest, a reality-based political comedy/drama about French president Nicolas Sarcosi's seduction of France; during the campaign he lost his wife to his campaign manager, which opened the way to marry singer Carla Bruni. Also in the fall pipeline is German period biopic Young Goethe in Love, loosely based on Goethe's autobiographical The Sorrows of Young Werther, starring young German actor Alexander Fehling (Inglourious Basterds). Music Box also wants to book the Japanese 2005 hit Quill: The Life of a Guide Dog, starring America's most popular dog, a yellow Labrador Retriever, as a family film, says Arentz. "It's a classic dog movie, they always end the same way."
I interviewed Arentz on the flip cam about Music Box and the indie market some months ago; here's are some clips.