Canadian film-makers making the annual pilgrimage to the Cannes Film Festival in France have grown accustomed to a low profile. During the 1970s several Canadian films, including J.A. Martin, Photographe and Outrageous, earned respectable notices, but there has been little to justify national pride in the past eight years. This week that lack of interest may end. Festival organizers have chosen two Canadian films for official screenings: Night Magic, a musical fantasy starring Carole Laure and Nick Mancuso, and Joshua Then and Now, Ted Kotcheff’s screen adaptation of Mordecai Richler’s best-selling novel. The two films, both productions of RSL Entertainment, will have their world premieres only days after completion. Said Toronto producer Robert Lantos, co-owner of RSL: “This could be the high point—or the low point—of my career.”
Both films are certain to draw critical attention, but only Joshua has been selected for official competition—Canada’s sole hope for winning the coveted Palme d’Or. Expectations for the longawaited Joshua are justifiably high. The film is being heralded as the most highpowered production to emerge from English Canada since The Apprenticeship of Buddy Kravitz. That 1974 collaboration between Kotcheff and Richler is the only English-Canadian film ever to have been a major success both critically and financially. For Toronto-born Kotcheff,
Buddy launched a remarkably successful Hollywood career (North Balias Forty), but Joshua lured him back. The film focuses on the misadventures of a Jewish writer who returns home to Montreal after several years in England. Last week André Lamy, executive director of Telefilm Canada, the federal film financing agency, viewed a preliminary version of the film and declared: “It is a masterpiece. I hope it will demonstrate that we can produce a film of international stature.”
Joshua may be all that Lamy said it is, but its making was plagued with problems. It took Kotcheff, Lantos and RSL four years to launch the project. When the cameras finally began rolling last August, Telefilm and the CBC had invested more than $4.5 million in it. As well, Twentieth Century-Fox agreed to pay more than $2.5 million (U.S.) for international distribution rights. Starring American James Woods and Montreal actress Gabrielle Lazure as Joshua’s aristocratic wife, the cast included Alan Arkin and Michael Sarrazin. But financial problems threatened to halt the production when costs soared past the $9-million budget figure to $11 million. The producers battled fiercely with Motion Picture Guarantors, the company that had guaranteed investors would get the film that had been promised. In December, Motion Picture Guarantors briefly took over the film, but RSL regained control when Motion Picture Guarantors, Telefilm, Lloyds of London and the CBC agreed to put up extra mon-
ey. Said Lamy: “We knew a solution had to be found and we were right—it’s even better than Buddy.”
Joshua's commercial fate will undoubtedly depend on the critical reaction this week. The film, which will also be aired in a four-hour series on the CBC in 1986, should open in theatres this fall. To break even, Joshua must earn $20 million at the box office. Senior executives of Twentieth Century-Fox have been slow to publicize it as one of their major releases, perhaps because the film was approved by a previous regime. A major marketing campaign could cost as much as $5 million (U.S.), and if the Cannes response is positive Joshua should be guaranteed proper exposure. Said Lantos: “If the film is well received, Cannes is an unmatchable launching pad for international careers.”
For Kotcheff, this week is especially important. Joshua is his first film in official competition since Outback in 1970. Before the black-tie gala, which federal Communications Minister Marcel Masse and the recently fired Lamy are scheduled to attend, the director will join 120 others to celebrate at the threestar restaurant Moulin de Mougins. Said Kotcheff: “The butterflies in my stomach will each be as big as Pegasus.” For the beleaguered Canadian film industry, this should be a week to remember.
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