Jean Labadie • Distributor
by Fabien Lemercier
31/07/2008 - Jean Labadie – a specialist in French distribution of Italian films who has released several of Nanni Moretti’s features via Bac Films – is launching Gomorrah [trailer, film focus] in French theatres on August 13, via his new company Le Pacte. Cineuropa met with the distributor ahead of the Cannes Film Festival to discuss the exhibition of Italian films in France.
Cineuropa: What are your opinions on the French distribution of Italian films, which sometimes proves to be a difficult task?
Jean Labadie: There is a very strong connection between French and Italian cinema and you just need the right film to come along for it to be an immediate success. We’re not talking about countries that are unfamiliar to viewers, but rather a country – Italy – that is well known and traditionally loved by French people. But the films do not always strike a chord with French and international audiences.
Moreover, France is a very competitive country where it is difficult to release films that don’t stand a chance with audiences, in the sense that they have no real appeal that draws viewers. And this appeal – which may be the subject matter or the director – catches people’s attention from the start. Whether it be Respiro: Grazia’s Island [trailer], Crime Novel [trailer, film focus] or of course films by Nanni Moretti and Roberto Benigni, everything points to the fact that when the right films show up, audiences recognise them immediately and they enjoy great success.
The films’ subject matter has to have resonance beyond the country of origin, as well as an Italian specificity, so that viewers don’t think to themselves that they can find exactly the same thing at home, but with different actors. For if everyone makes films about 30-something characters with romantic troubles, people will obviously be more inclined to see titles with a domestic cast. Italian films need to be truly Italian, with a real personality and subject matter that belong to the country’s culture. This is the case with Gomorrah, which retraces a chapter in the history and current situation in Italy.
Why did you decide to pre-buy Gomorrah?
I thought the film had potential; I had a real desire to see it and I believed I wouldn’t be the only person in France to feel this way. However, Gomorrah received no pre-sales from TV companies in France, neither from Canal +, nor from the terrestrial networks. But there is no backing of this kind for UK or German films either, nor for any other foreign works; funding is restricted to French films, due to various obligations. Factors that encourage pre-sales and co-productions are the reputation of the director and cast. Apart from rare exceptions, Italian filmmakers have not acquired a particularly strong reputation in France in recent years. But it’s clear that those who do have a strong reputation have no difficulty finding distributors.
How do you see the future of Italian films in France?
It’s always difficult to boost distribution, but it can happen very quickly. Let’s take the example of Respiro: Grazia’s Island; people had never heard of Crialese and it wasn’t the cast that drew viewers. But once the film was widely distributed, word-of-mouth led to its success. And the film had received co-production backing from France. Then a prominent French actress was keen to play a role in the director’s next film and I’m sure that Crialese’s future films will arouse interest among French audiences, even if Golden Door [trailer, film focus] didn’t perform as well as hoped.
If connections exist in terms of the casting, they can soon be formed through the subject matter and distributors’ desires to establish links between French and Italian films. There is a very long history of collaboration between the two countries, of common tastes and love of cinema. For instance, in the case of Italian distributors: when we, French distributors, buy an independent film from whatever territory, quite often the same film is also bought for Italy. In that respect, we share very similar tastes. And French audiences have a real passion for Italian film. There’s therefore no reason why the situation shouldn’t pick up again.