‘The Count Of Monte Cristo’ Producer Dimitri Rassam Talks Lessons Learned, Hybrid Int’l Distribution Strategy & English-Language Plans As Swashbuckler Wows Cannes

French producer Dimitri Rassam is enjoying a high-profile Cannes Film Festival as producer of Competition title Limonov: The Ballad and The Count Of Monte Cristo, which scored a rousing 12-minute ovation at its Out of Competition debut.

“It’s my first film in Competition, it has been a tremendous ride,” says Rassam, who is a producer on Limonov under his Paris-based Chapter 2 banner, alongside Italy’s Lorenzo Gangarossa and Mario Gianani as well as director Kirill Serebrennikov’s long-time collaborator Ilya Stewart.

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Rassam is no stranger to the Cannes red carpet having regularly accompanied his actress mother Carole Bouquet in his early 20s, before mounting the festival’s famed steps in his own right as the producer of The Little Prince and co-producer of L’Immensità.

Cinema is also in his blood on his paternal side through late producer father Jean-Pierre Rassam, and uncle Paul Rassam, the long-time friend and collaborator of Francis Ford Coppola who has lent his support to the director’s $120M passion project Megalopolis, which is also in Competition this year.

Rassam will undoubtedly be relieved by the enthusiastic audience response to The Count of Monte Cristo as well as the strong reviews, with Deadline’s Pete Hammond declaring it “one of the best films” he had seen this Cannes.

The $46M movie is Rassam’s third big budget Alexandre Dumas adaptation in less than two years after $73M duology The Three Musketeers – D’Artagnan and The Three Musketeers – Milady.

Co-written by Matthieu Delaporte and Alexandre de La Patellière and directed by Martin Bourboulon, the swashbuckling Musketeer dramas gathered a starry A-list French and European cast, topped by François Civil, Eva Green, Vicky Krieps, Vincent Cassel, Lyna Khoudri, Louis Garrel, Romain Duris and Pio Marmaï.

All three Dumas adaptations were done in collaboration with French studio Pathé, which bankrolled and produced the productions and also handled the theatrical release in France and international sales.

The Musketeer films were released in April and December 2023, achieving $26M and $19.5M at the French box office respectively.

Rassam is refreshingly candid about the fact he is not wholly satisfied with their box office performance, even if he is proud of the quality of the productions.

“It’s an interesting exercise to look at the performance of a movie, even in the case of success, in terms of what were the objectives, the performance, the areas where we can learn and improve upon,” he says. “There’s a saying of Churchill that I like: ‘Success is never final, failure is never fatal. It’s the courage to continue that counts.’”

“In the case of Musketeer films, if you look at it objectively, by certain metrics, it’s a success, and then by others, it didn’t entirely achieve what we hoped. The films performed really well on the 50-plus demographic, as the number one, number two, most viewed movies, even above American movies,” he continues.

“But sadly, which is more problematic, we didn’t perform as well with the under-50 demographic. At the test screenings, they liked it just as much as the 50-plus demographic, but the reality is, we didn’t get them to buy tickets. That’s more of an existential challenge for French cinema.”

Internationally, both pictures sold well, and while no buyer is out of pocket, having sealed deals with local broadcasters and platforms, there was disappointment over their theatrical performance.

“I think part of the reason… is that the younger demographic, which we hoped would look at the movie as a potential blockbuster, or at least, as an entertainment movie first, couldn’t quite identify where the movie sits,” says Rassam

“In our current environment being a foreign language movie that doesn’t sit clearly in one marketing proposal is challenging. If we had been a very auteur slash typical Cannes movie, we might have been positioned more clearly for an audience that has a habit of going to see those movies in local language. We ended up being in between.”

Monte Cristo Aspirations

The new The Count of Monte Cristo movie reunites Rassam with Delaporte and de La Patellière, who take co-writing and co-directing credits.

Rassam is expecting a different reception for The Count of Monte Cristo, in part thanks to the presence in the lead role of Pierre Niney, who has a strong social media presence and inter-generational appeal.

He is joined by rising young actors Anamaria Vartolomei, who comes with the added kudos of being a Chanel ambassadress, and Vassili Schneider, alongside established names Laurent Lafitte, Anaïs Demoustier and Italy’s Pierfrancesco Favino.

The film will launch in France on more than 700 screens on June 28, having been pushed forward from an originally announced release date of October 23.

“The biggest gambit on Monte Cristo and its release date is that we are positioning it as an answer for the shortage of American tentpoles this summer (due to the Hollywood strikes). This is new territory in that very large French movies are not released in the summer,” explains Rassam.

“As I mentioned we wanted to get that younger demographic interested. They’re on holidays for nine straight weeks… we’ve tested the movie and it’s off the charts across the board. The demo that tests the best is the 15 to 24 bracket but I have no idea whether they’re going to show up or not.”

On the international distribution front, Rassam reveals the production has devised a hybrid strategy following conversations with buyers.

“We ended up re-formatting the Musketeer films as a six-part mini series, that our distributors, which has been sent out to all our buyers. The idea was given to us by Nordisk, the Scandinavian distributor of the films. They told us, ‘We don’t necessarily want to choose now how we’re going to exploit the movies but it would be helpful for us to have the movies in that format’,” says Rassam.

“It’s exactly the same edit but it so happens that those movies were four hours in duration in total and lent themselves perfectly to a six-episode format. We did it during post-production for the Musketeer films, and factored it in from the get-go on Monte Cristo. We realized that we needed to be agnostic when it came to reaching audiences outside of France.

“Our partners still like theatrical as a way to build awareness around the movie with the press, but in terms of residual TV value, we need to give them a tool-kit to properly exploit the picture, taking into account that it is a French-language period movie. Monte Cristo, is by far the best production we’ve done, but my job isn’t to be a fan of my picture, my job is to figure out an equilibrium between what partners are investing and where the market is at, and the reality is that it’s a very polarized market.”

Rassam suggests that Dumas’s writing with its regular cliff-hanger moments meant The Count of Monte Cristo also lent itself well to six-part format, alongside the feature-length version. He adds that there was no push-back from the directors because the original feature-length cuts remain untouched.

Next moves

Rassam says the making of the Dumas adaptations has still been a worthwhile process, not least because a number of key technicians worked across all three films and this has resulted in the creation of an extremely efficient and high-level crew.

He notes that many of these crew members are now attached to Bourboulon’s next film, the Afghanistan evacuation drama In The Hell Of Kabul: 13 Days, 13 Nights. The feature, which began shooting in Morocco on May 20, is another joint production with Pathé.

Set against the backdrop of the withdrawal from Afghanistan of U.S. troops in August, 2021 as the Taliban march on Kabul, the film recounts the true story of the French commander who oversaw security at the French embassy, the last Western mission to remain open.

The cast is led by Roschdy Zem with support from Lyna Khoudri, who was in both Musketeer movies, Danish Bafta-winning Borgen star Sidse Babett Knudsen and respected theatre actor Christophe Montenez of The Comédie Française.

On the basis of his experiences with the Dumas adaptations, Rassam is contemplating a move into English-language productions.

He would like Bourboulon to accompany him on this journey, suggesting that the director has what it takes to become France’s next Jean-Jacques Annaud, who wooed international audiences with films like The Name Of The Rose and Seven Years In Tibet.

“What I’m trying to get out there, which is why I want to be candid about our experience on the Musketeer films, is that we need to be lucid, while remaining ambitious,” says Rassam. “When we did the research into the Musketeer movies it was because I wanted to understand why the younger demographic didn’t show up, even though on the test, they loved the movie. The answer is perception and installing a new perception takes time.

“I think it’s our responsibility to look at the market… We’re not going to do suddenly get young audiences to shift their perception of French movies or their perception of casts, or their habits around consuming content,” he continues.

“So we can either decide to figure out new ways of reaching them. Or you can add in terms of viability. Simply put, if we were to make a movie of that scope with international cast do we feel like there’s a very significant market viability, our conviction is yes.”

As The Count of Monte Cristo, the final movie in the Dumas production cycle, takes off, Rassam is looking to his next step.

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