Wild Tales helmer Damián Szifrón calls Warner Bros International’s EVP of Europe & Latin America Distribution, Monique Esclavissat, the “godmother” of his film. The exec was responsible for the studio coming aboard the project at script stage, releasing it in Argentina and ultimately across Latin America. Esclavissat in turn calls Szifrón, “the whole package. He writes amazingly well and understands the human psyche.” So how did these two get together on the now Oscar-shortlisted film (see trailer below) which has become the biggest local title in Argentine history with $18M there and a combined $28.3M in the Warner markets so far?
“At Warner Bros, we’re always looking for new local talent, creative content, local movies,” Esclavissat tells me. She has long been fascinated by Argentinian movies, but the local industry had been relatively quiet for a period with only about 6-9% of the box office, she explains. She’d already had seen some of Szifrón’s work and thought he “showed promise.” In Cannes in 2012, Matias Mosteirin and Leticia Cristi at Kramer & Sigman Films which was producing Wild Tales (Relatos Salvajes in local parlance), told her they had a project that was made up of six stories with a passionate Szifrón at the helm. “I told them I’d love to read it, but I said, ‘I have to caution you that six stories is not exactly commercially easy. It represents a risk and a bit of a challenge. But I want to read it’.” In December two years ago, she received the script and was “totally bowled over.” Szifrón, who also penned the screenplay, is “very in tune with human emotions. The script really resonated from an international perspective. It’s very Argentinian, but it resonates in Mexico, the States. It reminds me of my daily commute to work, driving behind a lunatic,” Esclavissat laughs.
Wild Tales debuted in Cannes to a 10-minute standing ovation, and reviews have been glowing. The portmanteau is made up of blackly-comic vignettes featuring some of Argentina’s best known actors like Ricardo Darin. The stories are all linked, Szifrón recently told me, because they are all about “the pleasure of losing control… The pleasure of reacting towards injustice and aggression.”
Stars like Darin, who was recently in the local hit 7th Floor, helped enhance the package and Esclavissat was hooked. She picked up rights in Argentina and took the rest of Latin America as well. The producers “wanted a commitment to release all over the region. I said I couldn’t put that in writing, but made a commitment to do my best once I’d seen the movie and really showcase it in as many countries as we can,” she explains. Well, she says, “they over-delivered.” Ultimately, she also acquired Spain and France. Sony Pictures Classics is handling the U.S. release in February.
In Spain, Wild Tales is currently the No. 2 Argentine film of all time behind Juan José Campanella’s 2009 Oscar winner The Secret In Their Eyes. It’s also got another prestigious pair of producers in Pedro Almodovar and his brother Augustin. Box office there was about $5.3M as of last weekend with its biggest frame-to-frame drop registering at 27%; its actually been up most weeks.
“All of our offices and distributors have embraced the movie personally and passionately. They are very invested in seeing this movie be seen abroad,” says Esclavissat.
Esclavissat has had another recent smash local-language picture: Warner picked up pan-Latin American rights to 2012’s ultimate Mexican hit Nosotros Los Nobles. Indeed, many of the studios are in the game, some co-producing locally, others acquiring rights and acting as partners. This year alone, the hits have included Universal’s Spanish Affairs, Fox’s Bollywood pic Bang Bang and Warner’s own Rurouni Kenshin sequel and threequel in Japan. But Esclavissat maintains that perfect formulas “don’t come along often.” Wild Tales is “one of those happy situations. We cannot dismiss the fact that ultimately (if you have) an original concept that’s very well made and written with the right elements, the audience is going to react positively.”
Each project also has to be handled with a heavy dose of TLC. “We don’t want to do too many, we want to take care of them. I would like to do one a year” in Argentina and Mexico, for example. “If some years I don’t find anything, I will bide my time.” Check out the Wild Tales trailer below: