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Cannes' arty class of '08 too cool for major play: small distribs squeeze B.O. from releases as studios mainly shy away.

The domestic B.O. grosses for films acquired at last year's Cannes Film Festival demonstrate what happens when fest offerings are more arthouse than not.

Only two titles cumed north of $3 million: France's Oscar foreign-language nominee "The Class" ($3.6 million, still in release) and Charlie Kaufman's directorial debut "Synecdoche, New York" ($3.1 million).

Despite some star power (Gwyneth Paltrow) and some highly visible but strange publicity surrounding co-star Joaquin Phoenix right before the film's release, "Two Lovers" was perhaps too arty to do more major business beyond its $2.9 million gross.

Nabbing a foreign-language Oscar nomination boosted the profile of animated Israeli pic "Waltz With Bashir." Italian mob drama "Gomorrah" enjoyed some buzz but no Oscar nom.

"Two Lovers," among a handful of available U.S. titles unspooling in the 2008 Cannes competition--"Synecdoche" and Steven Soderbergh's "Che" included--was certainly high profile enough on paper but met with lukewarm responses. "Che" only found a buyer (IFC) months later.

Along with Sony Classics, IFC was one of the busiest buyers at Cannes last year. The distrib, which also does day-and-date VOD releasing, has seen a strong start for Brit Steve McQueen's "Hunger." Film has posted good per-location averages since Opening in early March.

Sony Classics' "Tyson," from director James Toback, scored a per-location average of $7,817.

There's nothing wrong with smaller grosses, but it's getting harder and harder to justify art-house acquisitions, particularly for the studio specialty labels such as Fox Searchlight, Focus Features and Miramax. For the most part, they left Cannes empty-handed last year.

Sony Classics and IFC are more nimble and able to pick up smaller or foreign-language fare that may catch fire during awards season but, in these tentpole times, might not spark big time at the box office.

Whether it's the smaller labels or studio arms that dominate this year's fest will depend on if the Croisette offers films with broader appeal, such as "We Own the Night," which cumed north of $28 million after Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions Group acquired the pic out of the Cannes lineup in 2007.

Title               U.S. distrib    ([dagger])

The Class           Sony Classics   Dec. 19
  New York          Sony Classics   Oct. 24
Two Lovers              Magnolia    Feb. 13
Waltz With Bashir   Sony Classics   Dec. 12
Che                          IFC    Dec. 12
Gomorrah                     IFC    Dec. 19
A Christmas Tale             IFC    Nov. 24
Wendy and Lucy      Oscilloscope    Dec. 10
Tokyo!                Liberation    March 6
Tokyo Sonata              Regent    March 13
Tyson               Sony Classics   April 24
Moscow, Belgium      NeoClassics    Feb. 20
Hunger                       IFC    March 22
The Black Balloon    NeoClassics    March 15
Serbis                    Regent    Jan.30
The Song of
  Sparrows                Regent    April 9
Il Divo                Music Box    April 24

                       Widest       Domestic
Title                 locations       B.O.*

The Class                125         3.7 mil
  New York               119         3.1 mil
Two Lovers               148         3.0 mil
Waltz With Bashir        208         2.3 mil
Che                      39          1.7 mil
Gomorrah                 50          1.5 mil
A Christmas Tale         57          1.1 mil
Wendy and Lucy           40             866K
Tokyo!                   18             313K
Tokyo Sonata             10             220K
Tyson                    11             205K
Moscow, Belgium          15             198K
Hunger                   12             135K
The Black Balloon         8              96K
Serbis                    4              63K
The Song of
  Sparrows                4              55K
Il Divo                   2              50K

([dagger]) since late 2008 * as of May 4

Source: Rentrak; NeoClassics B.O. reported by distrib
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Title Annotation:ON THE CROISETTE
Author:McClintock, Pamela
Geographic Code:4EUFR
Date:May 11, 2009
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