L’ultra-gore The Sadness hits theaters in France. A real “obstacle course” in terms of distribution and promotion.
It’s Monday, July 4, two days before the release of The Sadness on French screens. In the offices of ESC, the distributor, we are waiting for a phone call which would confirm the programming of the film in a few additional rooms. We are even aiming for a huge multiplex, without much hope. Never mind: Victor Lamoussière, in charge of the feature film, is quite satisfied: “We are quite happy […]we will be on 75-80 copies in national release and it is a film which starts from very, very far”.
And for good reason: when we discovered The Sadness at the Strange Festival 2021, we did not expect to see it arrive in theaters with us. Directed by Robert Jabbaz, a Canadian exiled in Taipei, it had forged a fine reputation after its appearance at Grimmfest and Fantasia. The typical example of the big gore shoot that electrifies the public of specialized festivals… before failing – at best – on VOD, DVD or Blu-ray in France. And yet, this time, it sets out to conquer a wider audience, thanks to ESC. But between acquisition, classification and promotion, it hasn’t been a long calm river.
Rare image of a distributor after the release of a gore film
“I discovered the film at the PIFFF last December. I went to see The Sadness somewhat at random and there I took a huge slap. further from what we usually see. I come back to the office on Monday, I talk about it with my colleagues, we realize that the film is free of rights for distribution in France in theaters. there, it was a lot of thinking, work to prepare a budget because we knew that in any case, it would be risky.
First difficulty, and not the least: the passage in committee of the CNC, body responsible, among other things, for classification. This mandatory step is the test of fire for distributors who accompany graphic works, especially since the exciting (and quite hard, no pun intended) Pleasure very recently most likely narrowly escaped the under-18 conviction, as he received an under-16 with warning at second instance.
The classification “forbidden to those under 18” would have been catastrophic: “I must admit that we were a little stressed, because, as you know, from a distribution and programming point of view, releasing a film under 18 is almost an impossible mission, both vis-à-vis – vis-à-vis the media than the exhibitors”. In this case, ESC would have stepped up to challenge the decision and be able to ensure a minimum of promotion and visibility.
The mention under 16 with warning, which all the same only concerns a few films a year, is already quite heavy to bear, but quite logical in the case of The Sadness : “So less than 16 with a warning, it’s still difficult, it’s still an obstacle course. Nevertheless, we close a little less doors and we keep this marketing promise of trash film, violent film”.
And it didn’t go far: “We present the film to the CNC, the film goes to committee. There, a first opinion given by the CNC hesitates between under 16s with a warning and under 18s. Basically, they told us that it was 40% under 18, 60% under 16. […] The CNC watches the film a second time and there, relief, it confirms to us that it will only be prohibited for those under 16 with a warning. Anyway, we suspected, we knew we would not have less. From that moment, we have our ban so we are fixed“.
The Sadness is therefore prohibited for children under 16 with the following warning: “The uninterrupted violence throughout this film is likely to disturb a sensitive audience”. However, there was never any question of cutting anything, as happened in Germany on a much more confidential release. Good news, it will be able to come out on video with the alluring mention “Uncensored”. Thank you Rob Jabbaz: by relegating sexual violence to off-screen, he avoids this adventure from a sad conclusion.
Off-screen, but not too much
Next step: programming. Thanks to the work of a passionate programmer, Marie Demart, lovers of tripaille will not have to settle for a technical outing. Obviously, the reputation of the film cools many circuits, in particular on the side of the multiplexes. If some large groups followed, others showed more reluctance.
Victor Lamoussière relativizes: “Two days before the release, I must nevertheless salute the fact that the exhibitors rather played the game. If you want, we, when we acquired the film in January, we talked about it with my colleagues and we said to himself: ‘If we make 5 to 10 copies, we will be happy, the film is still not easy’. There, it is Monday, we are at 75 confirmed copies for national release”. Eventually, the film was released in over 84 theaters. A distribution of course in the low average of the French park, but quite impressive for a work of this caliber. Rob Jabbaz himself was also pleased to see his film exported to such an extent.
FYI. Starting Wednesday July 6th, THE SADNESS is playing in over 84 theaters in France…
— rob jabbaz (@RobJabbaz) July 5, 2022
It remains to convince the general public to rush to theaters. Once again, the nature of the film is not its greatest marketing asset: for example, the cinema press is not the same within the framework of festivals and a national release. A periodical like Mad Moviesaccustomed to this kind of demonstrations (and therefore to this kind of proposals) very logically accompanies its release, by devoting 8 pages to it, just like the most deranged members of the editorial staff ofEcran Large did not have to be asked to declaim their love for him. In contrast, major dailies are less experienced in exercise.
Fortunately, The Sadness is doing better than expected in this regard. Certainly, Les Inrockuptibles, Release and several others were, unsurprisingly, not kind, but some titles praised the film’s boldness. For Firstit is “a stress relief with 100 ideas per minute”pour GQ, “a traumatic and memorable cinema experience”pour 20 Minutes, “an extraordinary cinema experience”… What counterbalance a promotion not obvious.
After the press screening
We paid the price ourselves when we went looking for a thumbnail for our video: on networks where the slightest ounce of violence is largely hidden, it is difficult to sell a film whose main argument is amount of blood spilled on its actors. It’s like promoting something… without showing it.
“We made 15 different versions of the trailer. We made soft versions, violent versions. On YouTube, we released the violent version, on Facebook and other social networks we were able to put the violent version, but there where it’s frustrating is that we put it in organic Obviously, in terms of promo, as soon as you want to do a little sponso, as soon as you want to do a little filming of the video, and well there we have had to send ultra-soft versions and afterwards, each time, we waited to know if it was going to pass or not.
So yes, it’s frustrating because, inevitably, the trailers that have been the most viewed are the softest. We sent to some major media, which offer pretty incredible coverage in terms of views, the two trailers. They told us: ‘Oh no, we’ll take the software’. So, of course, it’s not easy, because we sell a violent film without showing anything […] We walked on eggshells.”
All without the help of the CNC. Indeed, ESC is best known for its video editions. However, to qualify for financial assistance, three films must be released over three years. If success is there, will ESC continue on this path?
“We are not closing the door to the distribution of other films in the cinema, on the contrary. Afterwards, there are already so many distributors, there are already so many films coming out… We tell ourselves that if we want to continue to do it, it will be the film first and foremost. Finding the nugget. There, we said to ourselves that with The Sadness, we really had a crazy film in our hands. So, if tomorrow we find another film that will has the same effect, that is to say that we say to ourselves: ‘We are lucky to have seen it at a festival and we really have to take it to French cinemas’, why not. ” We are waiting for this impatiently.