Will Xavier Dolan's Cannes winner triumph at the box office?

Xavier Dolan (WENN.COM)

Xavier Dolan (WENN.COM)

Bruce Kirkland, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:47 PM ET

Aside from the ignominious booing that Atom Egoyan’s slow-burn thriller The Captive suffered at the Cannes Film Festival last month, Canada has never fared better at the world’s biggest, most prestigious and most influential film festival.

David Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars, a satirical opus about Hollywood, bit the hand that so rarely feeds the Toronto director. As a reference point, critics even cited a parallel with the great John Schlesinger film adaptation of the Nathanael West novel The Day of the Locust in 1975, which happened to star Canadian actor Donald Sutherland in one of his most underrated performances. Prodding Hollywood over its obsession with stardom is no problem in Cannes, of course. Maps to the Stars generated a best actress prize for Julianne Moore, along with rave reviews that turned the film into Cronenberg’s most buzz-worthy title since 2005’s A History of Violence.

Meanwhile, the youthful Quebec director Xavier Dolan walked away with the Jury Prize (in a tie vote) for his intimate drama, Mommy. This award ranks behind the Palme d’Or (which went to the epic-length Turkish film Winter Sleep, the story of a retired actor’s stormy life) and the Grand Jury Prize (which went to the honeyed Italian drama The Wonders, a tale about beekeepers). If this was the Film Olympics, Dolan would have earned a bronze medal. Rather impressive for a filmmaker who is still only 25 and yet has already made five features.

So Canada is celebrating. All three of The Captive, Mommy and Maps to the Stars should feature prominently in the Toronto International Film Festival in September. Expect to see the Turkish film, too, because TIFF programmers love the work of Nuri Bilge Ceylan.

Yet a nagging question remains: What are the box office prospects for the three Canadian films? For that matter, what will happen to foreign titles such as Winter Sleep and The Wonders when they finally make it into commercial runs in both Canadian and American cinema chains?

The blunt truth is, every one of these titles will struggle for the kind of box office that Godzilla racked up in its opening weekend in the U.S. and Canada. That figure was a robust $93 million. Going into this weekend, the total worldwide box office for Godzilla is nearly $350 million. Clearly, these staggering numbers are way out of reach for most independent, non-Hollywood films — and especially films such as Mommy, Winter Sleep and The Wonders, which all play in original languages other than English.

For that matter, even acclaimed, English-language Canadian productions face challenges in Canadian cinemas, where homegrown features rarely occupy more than two to three percent of the screens. Even a hugely successful venture — such as Cronenberg’s A History of Violence — took in just $61 million in worldwide box office, 60 percent of that in the U.S. and Canada. That is lunch money for a Hollywood blockbuster.

“No one makes a film hoping that no one will see it,” Godzilla director Gareth Edwards told me recently, just before his first blockbuster hit the screen. Prior to Godzilla, the English filmmaker struggled with just that dilemma. His critically acclaimed indie picture Monsters — which became his calling card for the Godzilla gig — earned just $4.2 million worldwide. Of that, a meagre $237,301 was generated in the U.S. and Canada. Of course, Monsters only cost $500,000 to produce (compared to $160 million for Godzilla) so it did make a profit.

But, in Edwards’ opinion, “Every filmmaker wants to make a film that satisfies in an artistic sense but also attracts a mainstream audience.” The trick for Canadians such as Cronenberg, Egoyan and Dolan is figuring out how to do that while still making their own, highly idiosyncratic and personalized films.

Twitter: @Bruce_Kirkland

bruce.kirkland@sunmedia.ca

 


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