Gaumont and ‘Timbuktu’ Director Team on Romantic Drama ‘The Perfumed Hill’ (EXCLUSIVE)

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Eight years after delivering his Oscar-nominated film “Timbuktu,” Abderrahmane Sissako is set to make his anticipated directorial comeback with “The Perfumed Hill.” Gaumont is representing in international markets and will introduce it to buyers at at Toronto. The French studio will also distribute the film in France, while Cohen Media Group will release it in the U.S.

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Re-teaming Sissako with his “Timbuktu” co-writer Kessen Tall, “The Perfumed Hill” is a romance drama set between China’s tea hills, the Ivory Coast and Cape Verde. It stars Nina Melo (“Girlhood”), Han Chang (“Little Big Women”) and Ke-Xi Wu (“Nina Wu”).

The movie follows the journey of Joice, who leaves the Ivory Coast to start a new life in Guangzhou, China, after saying “no” on her wedding day. She finds a job at a tea boutique owned by Cai, a Chinese man, in the vibrant region of Guangzhou, known as the “Chocolate City.” In the secrecy of the back shop, Cai decides to initiate Joice to the tea ceremony and through the teaching of this ancient art, their relationship slowly turns into tender and passionate love.

Sissako, who penned the screenplay, said he was inspired to tell this story after discovering in 2005 a restaurant called La Colline Parfumée” (“The Perfumed Hill”) that was run by an Afro-Chinese couple.

He said the film’s backdrop, “Chocolate City,” “encourages human encounters through its countless stores of every kind.”

“All year round, thousands of Africans come there from all over the continent. It is the cosmopolitan setting par excellence where African languages mingle with Mandarin, different dishes influence and blend with each other, business is essential, disregarding racial barriers of rejection, and, inevitably, bonds are forged, imported, exported, and travel,” Sissako continued.

The politically minded director previously tackled the barbaric occupation of Islamic fundamentalists in Mali in his film “Timbuktu.” A critical and commercial success, the movie competed at Cannes where it won the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury and the François Chalais Award. It was nominated for an Oscar and a BAFTA, and won a whooping seven Cesar awards.

His anticipated follow up, “The Perfumed Hill,” being produced by Cinefrance Studios (“Falcon Lake”), Archipel 35 (“Tori and Lokita”) and Sissako’s Dune Vision.

“Abderrahmane Sissako’s unique work, rooted in Africa but universal, with its humanity and poetry, built around exile but also the meeting of cultures and tolerance, is distributed and admired in many countries,” said the producers.

The film is starting to shoot this month with a strong key crew including Aymerick Pilarski (“Egg”), Amine Bouhafa (“Summit of Gods”), as well as “Timbuktu” editor Nadia Ben Rachid.

“‘The Perfumed Hill’ is about an awakening of senses, the weaving of African and Chinese cultures and the relations between the two continents, told through this intimate love story,” said Alexis Cassanet at Gaumont. “It’s an extremely rich and layered story that is undertaken by a film master, and it underscores our ambition to continue working on director-driven films, such as Mathieu Amalric’s ‘Hold Me Tight’ and Xavier Giannoli’s ‘Lost Illusions’ that play at festivals, alongside comedies and more mainstream fare,” the executive continued.

The film is co-produced by Gaumont, Arte France Cinéma, Red Lion, House on Fire and House on Fire International, in association with Cohen Media Group, with the participation of Canal+, Ciné+ and Arte France.

“The Perfumed Hill” is backed by CNC (Aide aux cinémas du monde), Film Fund Luxembourg, Eurimages, TAICCA and Kaohsiung Film Fund distribution France.

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