French actor and director Guillaume Canet has revealed he is feeling the pressure ahead of the release next week of his ambitious $70M production Asterix & Obelix: The Middle Kingdom.
Canet directs and stars in the film as iconic plucky Gaul Asterix in an all-star ensemble cast also featuring Gilles Lellouche as Obelix, Vincent Cassel as Julius Caesar, Marion Cotillard as Cleopatra and Swedish soccer star Zlatan Ibrahimović as Caesar’s bodyguard Antivirus.
The production is Canet’s eighth feature after 2006 breakout Tell No One, 2010 hit Little White Lies, Brooklyn-set, English-language debut Blood Ties and the smaller more personal pandemic-shot film Lui.
Long-time collaborator Alain Attal at Trésor Films produces with Pathé and Yohan Baiada at Les Enfants Terribles.
Pathé will launch Asterix & Obelix: The Middle Kingdom on 1,200 screens on February 1. Local media is hailing the release as the biggest film event of early 2023.
Canet has said he is feeling nervous as the release date nears, and with good reason: much rides on its performance.
“We’re after a pandemic. Cinema is getting better but it’s still quite fragile,” he said in an interview with the French radio network France Inter. “The film industry is waiting on the film. Everyone is really kind to me, there’s no sense of competition but they all know that if this film doesn’t work, there won’t be many others like it in France.”
“We need people to come back and rediscover the pleasure of sharing a film in a cinema, with their families. With the emergence of the platforms, it needs to work for all the other films to work and find financing. If a film like this doesn’t work, there won’t be any financiers who will put money into films. There’s a lot of pressure.”
The release is also a major operation for Pathé.
It will be a test case for its strategy to up invest in bigger local tentpole movies for theatrical distribution, alongside Martin Bourboulon’s big-budget swashbucklers The Three Musketeers – D’Artagnan and The Three Musketeers – Milady, which are due out on April 5 and December 23 respectively.
These releases will follow in the wake of a difficult period for the French cinema at the local box office as it recovers from the lockdowns of the Covid-19 pandemic.
With cinema admissions in France still down some 27% on pre-pandemic levels in 2022, not a single French production made it into the Top Ten last year.
It was the first time this has happened since 1989, with at least one or two commercial titles such as Serial (Bad) Weddings, Kaamelott and Bac Nord making it to the top of the chart alongside U.S. studio titles in recent years.
Asterix & Obelix: The Middle Kingdom was first announced internationally in 2020. Inspired by the works of Asterix & Obelix creators René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo, it is based on an original screenplay by Philippe Mechelen and Julien Hervé, with Canet taking a credit for the dialogue alongside the writers.
Set in 50 BC, the feature sees Asterix and Obelix come to the aid of a Chinese princess in an adventure that will also being them up against long-time enemy Julius Caesar.
Initial plans to shoot on location in China were ditched because of the Covid-19 pandemic, with filming taking place mainly in France and a short stint in Morocco.
Canet and his producers are hoping to replicate the success of past Asterix & Obelix films.
Claude Zidi’s 1999 classic Asterix & Obelix Take On Caesar, starring Christian Clavier and Gérard Depardieu, drew nine million spectators at home and another 16M internationally; Alain Chabat’s Asterix & Obelix: Mission Cleopatra, sold 14.4M tickets at home and another 10M outside of France, while Asterix At The Olympic Games less successful in 2008 but still generated 6.8M admissions
The Asterix & Obelix comic books remain embedded in French culture but the last live-action film inspired by the iconic franchise Asterix & Obelix: God Save Britannia failed to capture the French public’s imagination in 2012, drawing 3.8M spectators at home on the back of a $60M budget.
Canet told France Inter he had not thought too deeply when he first started to get the project off the ground.
“I tend to charge into things and think about it afterwards. If I have one quality, it’s to not think too much. I don’t reflect too much when I do something, I don’t ask too many questions,” he said.
“Now the film is finished, a month ago after four years of work. It’s dawning on me that I’ve made the film and that it is about to come out, it’s become concrete and I am beginning to get nervous.”