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Hollywood remakes of European films: Who's copying whom?

Some of the foreign filmmakers are imitating Hollywood in the first place.

January 02, 2011|By Eric Pape, Special to the Los Angeles Times
  • French actress Sophie Marceau poses on the red carpet during a tribute to French cinema at the 10th edition of the Marrakech International Film Festival on Dec. 4, 2010.
French actress Sophie Marceau poses on the red carpet during a tribute to… (Abdelhak Senna / AFP/Getty…)

Reporting from Paris — — Given all of the Hollywood remakes of recent European films, it is worth asking: Who in Hollywood best channels French movie star Sophie Marceau?

Is it Angelina Jolie, who fills Marceau's elegant shoes in the recently released romantic thriller "The Tourist" — a film based on the 2005 French film "Anthony Zimmer"?

Or how about Demi Moore, who will fill Marceau's house slippers in the 2011 single-mother/daughter film "LOL (Laughing Out Loud)" costarring Miley Cyrus in a remake of a 2008 French film of the same name.

The question resonates, when you consider that a Hollywood adaptation of Marceau's charming 2010 film "L'âge de Raison" (The Age of Reason), in which a hard-charging businesswoman's life is shaken up when she receives letters from her childhood self, is already in development.

The rising tide of such remakes is hardly limited to Marceau, but the fact that at least three of the actress' films have drawn such attention from Hollywood is a clear sign that Hollywood is harvesting Europe with unusual intensity. In the last year, five American retreads of French films have been released. Even the small Swedish film scene sparked a Hollywood bidding war in 2010 to adapt the drug-world film "Snabba Cash" into "Easy Money" (with Zac Efron), while a popular Swedish vampire film was recently remade into "Let Me In" — not to mention the Millennium Trilogy film adaptations.

Hollywood's enhanced efforts to adapt — or simply copy — foreign-language films highlight a cultural transformation of popular European cinema in recent decades. Many technically capable European filmmakers are surprisingly intimate with American film traditions. The cliché of French films as motionless stories with run-on intellectual discussions is impossible to square with the thrilling action-driven filmmaking of Jean-François Richet's "Mesrine" or Olivier Assayas' swaggering 1970s-era radical biopic "Carlos."

Fred Cavayé, who wrote and directed the 2008 film "Pour Elle" — which Oscar-winning writer-director Paul Haggis remade into "The Next Three Days" — notes that he and his thriller-making contemporaries are extremely referential to Hollywood. "The irony," Cavayé says, "is that we do American-style films that they are redoing."

While earlier-generation European auteurs sometimes saw Hollywood remakes as a crass denigration of their art, many next-generation European filmmakers see it as a gateway to greater opportunity. "It is part of industry logic these days to seize on original ideas from foreign films and adapt them," says Paco Plaza, the co-writer and co-director of the Spanish zombie film "[Rec]" that was remade as "Quarantine" and released in the U.S. before the original film. "It is a stamp of approval. And it increases the popularity of the original films, so I have no complaints of any sort."

Hollywood's temptation to remake is understandable. Producers can watch a coherent film and decide whether it works rather than having to extrapolate from a script that needs refinement. And it certainly doesn't hurt that foreign films tend to have exotic touches of sex, violence, drama or humor that can come across as fresh to Americans.

There is a long tradition of remaking groundbreaking European films. Giovanni Pastrone's historic epic "Cabiria" inspired D.W. Griffith's 1916 "Intolerance." And silent films from the 1920s, such as Fritz Lang's expressionist sci-fi film "Metropolis" and F.W. Murnau's "Nosferatu, A Symphony of Horror" — believed to be the first-ever vampire film — have been reproduced again and again. Groundbreaking can hardly describe the star-driven remakes that became common in the 1980s and 1990s, including "Three Men and a Baby," "True Lies," "The Bird Cage" and "Vanilla Sky."

But more recently, with Hollywood studios buying fewer pitches and spec scripts from their shrunken development budgets, the race to remake is about trying to place safer bets, according to Nick Spicer, a partner at XYZ Films. With much of the "low-hanging fruit" long gone a risk-averse Hollywood has begun to turn toward stories with a track record of success.

The result is that Hollywood studios have been systematizing the process — for instance, by conditioning funding for European films on remake options and hiring staff to track down film properties — and cutting the turnaround times on remakes.

The sassy 2010 romantic comedy "L'arnacoeur" (Heartbreaker), starring Vanessa Paradis and Romain Duris, has a sharp original script that, minus a couple of vulgar (and funny) lines, could be directly translated into Hollywoodese. Universal Studios International and Working Title signed on for a remake before the film's release last spring, and an English-language script is being developed.

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