Several foreign productions lead the pack of this weekend’s Specialty newcomers just as future foreign contenders take the spotlight at the Berlin International Film Festival. Berlinale ’17 prize winner The Party by Sally Potter takes its bow in the U.S. via Roadside Attractions. The black and white feature, which along with Kristin Scott Thomas and Timothy Spall also features Patricia Clarkson, Emily Mortimer, Cherry Jones and Cillian Murphy, peppers in a decent shake of laughter in a gathering meant for celebration that goes downhill.

Sony Pictures Classics is opening Russian Best Foreign Language nominee Loveless in New York and L.A., Cohen Media Group has French filmmaker François Ozon’s Double Lover, while Reliance Entertainment is opening Indian-produced action-drama Aiyaary in 150 North American locations.

Other limited release openers include Well Go USA’s The Monkey King 3 and FilmRise’s The Boy Downstairs. Warner Bros. will bow English/Mandarin Chinese feature Detective Chinatown 2. And Bleecker Street is opening Mark Pellington’s drama Nostalgia.

Roadside Attractions

The Party
Director-writer: Sally Potter
Cast: Timothy Spall, Kristin Scott Thomas, Patricia Clarkson, Bruno Ganz, Cherry Jones, Emily Mortimer, Cillian Murphy
Distributor: Roadside Attractions

Roadside acquired British filmmaker Sally Potter’s black and white dramedy The Party last spring after its Berlin International Film Festival debut. The project, which was only halfway through its shoot when the U.K. voted to opt out of the E.U., appears to portend the shake-up happening in the political sphere both at home and around the world, though the word ‘Brexit’ hadn’t entered the lexicon when Potter began writing the feature.

In The Party, Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas) has just been appointed to a key ministerial position in the shadow cabinet – the crowning achievement of her political career. She and her husband Bill (Timothy Spall) plan to celebrate this with a few close friends. As the guests arrive at their home in London the party takes an unexpected turn for the worse when Bill suddenly makes some explosive revelations that take everyone present by surprise. Love, friendships and political convictions are soon called into question.

“We shot it in two weeks. The Brexit vote happened half-way through the shoot, so people showed up crying on set,” said Potter during a post-screening conversation at the Film Society of Lincoln Center earlier this week in New York. “People asked me, ‘Did you see this coming?’ I wrote it before ‘Brexit’ was even a word in the vocabulary, but when you’re writing in a political atmosphere, it’s everywhere. It’s in the air you breathe and in the conversations you’re having. It’s like having one’s ear to the ground and hearing a distant rumble.”

Potter pointed out the unconventional couplings in her film, which is only her sixth directorial feature since her 1992 breakout Orlando. “Casting is never easy. It’s a powerful process of imagining and re-imagining a character through ‘that body or that body.’ I always like to get familiar with people’s work before speaking to them. The couplings in this movie would not be done by most people. Timothy Spall and Kristin Scott Thomas or Patricia Clarkson with Bruno Ganz…”

Potter noted that she first found Thomas and Spall for the roles of Janet and Bill since, “they were the hosts of the party” and then went from there. She added that she had “endlessly re-written” parts of the script, though when she went back to referring to the first few pages of the original, they were the same word for word.

“The first impulse sustains one through the long-haul of development,” she said.

Roadside is opening The Party at the Angelika and Landmark 57 West in New York as well as the Landmark in L.A. Friday.

Sony Pictures Classics

Director-writer: Andrey Zvyagintsev
Writer: Oleg Negin
Cast: Maryana Spivak, Alexey Rozin,  Matvey Novikov
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

Russian feature Loveless is the final Best Foreign Language Oscar nominee to make its theatrical bow stateside. Sony Pictures Classics wanted to avoid the Christmas rush of awards hopefuls to allow the film to “breathe” between the nominations and the upcoming awards.

“It comes into the marketplace with many accolades,” said SPC co-president Michael Barker. Along with being a Golden Globe-nominee, Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Loveless won the Grand Jury Prize in Cannes last May. The film is also up for a BAFTA this Sunday.

In the feature, Zhenya (Maryana Spivak) and Boris (Alexey Rozin) are going through a vicious divorce marked by resentment, frustration and recriminations. Already embarking on new lives, each with a new partner, they are impatient to start again, to turn the page – even if it means threatening to abandon their 12-year-old son Alyosha (Matvey Novikov). Until after witnessing one of their fights, Alyosha disappears.

“We had Zvyagintsev’s Leviathan three years ago and we were looking to be in business with the director and producer again,” said Barker. “After Leviathan, he made Loveless. We bought the movie after he finished editing from [European sales company] Wild Bunch before it played in Cannes. They were very much aware of our relationship with the director and producer and they respected that.”

Barker noted that Loveless is a window into life in President Vladimir Putin’s Russia, but there’s also relatability to the present-day U.S.. “There are some links to life in Trump’s America in the movie. It’s about the irresponsibility of parents who are self absorbed. It reminds you of the greatest of Antonioni. Zvyagintsev is one of the masters of world cinema.”

Loveless launches Friday in limited release in New York and Los Angeles and will then platform nationally.

Cohen Media Group

Double Lover
Director-writer: François Ozon
Cast: Jacqueline Bisset, Jérémie Renier, Marine Vacth
Distributor: Cohen Media Group

In Double Lover, veteran French filmmaker François Ozon reunites with two actors he directed in breakout roles including Marine Vacth (Young & Beautiful) and Jérémie Renier (Criminal Lovers). His latest is an exploration of a woman venturing into ‘dangerous romance,’ according to distributor Cohen Media Group, which roles the film out this weekend.

Double Lover centers on Chloé, who works as a guard at a museum in Paris, seeks to shore up her resiliency and enters psychoanalysis. In Paul Meyer, the sensitive patient finds a caring psychiatrist who helps her overcome bouts with depression. Following the end of the treatment, both realize that they have fallen in love. A new chapter begins for Chloé when she and Paul move in together… yet Chloé soon comes to believe that Paul is keeping a secret. She impulsively visits another psychiatrist, Louis Delord. Spiraling emotional and sexual stakes will push all three of them to extremes, forcing Chloé to take action in order to solve a mystery and save herself.

“We have a longstanding relationship with François Ozon and had much success releasing his earlier films The Last Girlfriend and In the House,” commented Cohen Media Group chief Charles Cohen. “His latest, Double Lover, won us over upon our first viewing at a private screening last spring in Paris. The film is bold and original. François playfully teases out themes and motifs of the genre that cinephiles can relish.”

The company is hoping to tempt audiences with the erotic thriller, coming on the heels of Valentine’s Day, working imagery from the title into its promotional material. Noted Cohen: “The sexual component of the film is at the heart of the story. It is not gratuitous or salacious, but essential to the journey of the main characters – so we are decisively incorporating it into our campaign.”

Cohen Media Group will open Double Lover in 50 theaters this weekend. Added Cohen: “Our hope is the film will be appreciated by those familiar with Ozon as well as new generations meeting him for the first time in this work. Our mission as a distributor is to bring arthouse and specialty fare to larger audiences.”

Reliance Entertainment

Director-writer: Neeraj Pandey
Cast: Sidharth Malhotra, Manoj Bajpayee, Rakul Preet Singh, Pooja Chopra, Adil Hussain, Kumud Mishra, Naseeruddin Shah and Anupam Kher
Distributor: Reliance Entertainment

Indian action-drama Aiyaary is produced by Plan C, a joint venture enterprise with distributor Reliance Entertainment, which is releasing the title in North America day and date with India this weekend. Reliance was associated with the project from the script stage.

“[The film is set] against the backdrop of an arms scam and corruption,” said Reliance’s North American chief Sumit Chadha. “It’s a universal story with uncanny resemblance to actual incidents, where the main protagonists fight against corruption and save the nation.”

In Aiyaary, two Indian army officers including a mentor and his protégé suddenly have a fallout. The mentor, Colonel Abhay Singh is an intelligence veteran who has complete faith in the system of the country. Major Jai Bakshi, however, thinks otherwise because of what he has seen and heard during his recent stint in surveillance. Jai Bakshi decides to go rogue, which sets up the turmoil. Abhay has 36 hours to rein in Jai while Jai sits on a secret that can bring down the government.

“We have a 360-degree marketing campaign for Aiyaary that encompasses all traditional mediums as well as an extensive digital spread,” noted Chadha. “The film’s story has a [broad] appeal, so it is being targeted to both [The Indian] diaspora as well as to mainstream U.S. audiences via playing in high output mainstream locations and also through an effective PR outreach.”

Chadha added that the U.S. market for Indian-produced movies has been “growing rapidly,” and still has potential for further expansion. Said Chadha: “This is mainly due to U.S. audiences embracing different genres as well as increasingly high production values of the Indian cinema. Also, theater chains converting to reserved seating has had a major impact on growth since India has been following this system for ages.”

Reliance will open Aiyaary in 150-plus locations in North America this weekend.