‘Under Paris’ Director on Whether Netflix’s Shark Hit Will Get a Sequel and How the Movie Takes Aim at the Olympics

French shark movie “Under Paris” made a sneak underwater attack on worldwide streaming last week, scoring the best launch for a non-English language film on Netflix with 41 million views in its five first days on the service.

Dropping a month before the start of the summer Olympics in Paris, the movie about triathlon athletes who get devoured during a swimming race in the Seine river ranked first on Netflix’s top 10 for non-English language films across 93 countries. “Under Paris” was even praised by horror master Stephen King, who admitted he initially thought it “would be a jokey movie, like ‘Sharnado'” and found it it “really quite good.” “The last 25 minutes were amazing,” King said on X.

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It’s quite an achievement for a movie which on paper was clearly not an easy sell, “Under Paris” filmmaker Xavier Gens tells Variety. The project was turned down by French studios and financiers before Netflix came on board, says Gens, director of genre movies such as 2007’s “Hitman” and “Mayhem!” in addition to episodes of “Lupin.”

“People in France didn’t dare touch it. It’s a film that couldn’t have been produced and financed in the traditional circuit because folks assumed that shark movies could only be made by Americans or Koreans,” he says. Ultimately, the movie was produced with a budget in the €15-to-€20 million range ($16 million-$21 million), a large price tag by French standards. The budget was mostly covered by Netflix, along with tax credits in France, where the post-production was done, as well as in Belgium and Spain where the film shot.

Gens says “Under Paris” is as much a genre movie aimed at entertaining audiences as it is a political satire in the veins of “Don’t Look Up,” riffing at the hypocrisy of French politicians who claim that the Olympics are all about bringing people together when there’s also a commercial agenda and consequences for climate change.

Based on an original idea by Edouard Duprey and Sebastien Auscher, the film was penned by Gens, Maud Heywang and Yannick Dahan. Berenice Bejo, Oscar-nominated for “The Artist,” stars as a grieving scientist who teams with a cop to prevent a deadly shark attack in the run-up to an international triathlon held at the Seine river.

The whole idea of swimming in the Seine, normally thought of as too polluted for bathing, is also a running joke pulled directly from the city mayor Anne Hidalgo’s pledge to clean up the river enough that athletes and visitors would be able to swim in it during the Olympics. Up to $1.5 billion was spent to clean up the Parisian river, according to French outlets including Le Figaro. But ironically, while “Under Paris” is drawing millions of eyeballs with a movie about a river full of sharks and trash, this week the mayor of Paris postponed the date for a “historic bathing” event in the Seine due to country’s political turmoil. Hidalgo said the dip will take place after July 7, post the snap parliamentary elections which were called by French president Emmanuel Macron after the victory of French far right party Rassemblement National at the European elections.

Gens talked to Variety about the making of the film and prospects for a sequel.

Your film scared me but also made me laugh. Were you inspired by ‘Don’t Look Up’ ?

Yes, it was an inspiration. The whole idea was to take what we observe in French society and from politicians and caricature some of it. The funny thing is that all the dialogue in the film is pulled from actual speeches and comments made by different political figures, including Anne Hidalgo and Valerie Pecresse (head of the council of the Ile de France region). We just changed the context for all of them. We mocked all of it, and in some cases didn’t need to caricature that much. We really had fun inventing an alternate reality where we highlight human stupidity and show everyone making the wrong decisions!

Is “Under Paris” also a critique of climate change activists?

No, but we’re showing that everyone makes wrong decisions, including some of the activists. We see that there are different types of activists. The character played by Berenice Bejo belongs to an organization inspired by a real NGO called Sea Shepherd that I support personally. It was founded by Paul Watson and has been alerting people about the dangers of climate change and plastic pollution in the oceans for a long time. But we also show other activists who are more radical than others and take substantial risks. We’ve been criticized for failing to have a hero in the film and it’s true, everything our protagonists undertake in the film is doomed. But our aim was to show the comical aspect of it, rather than being in a purely realistic genre film. We were really stoked to see that Stephen King got it. He praised our film on social media and it’s incredible coming from such a genre legend.

The sharks are very convincing and scary. How were they made?

Yes! We worked with two very good vfx companies in France: MPC Paris and Digital District. I didn’t want them to look terrifying, we went for a more realistic look than in typical shark movies.

What about the underwater scenes and triathlon swimming competition. How did you create that?

We shot most of the underwater scenes in Belgium, at an indoor (10 meter deep) water stage called Lites Studios. We also shot the scenes in the catacombs there. We built the decor and immersed it under the water. Then we had to go to Spain to shoot the triathlon scenes because we couldn’t block the Seine. So we shot that at an open-air water tank in Alicante, Spain, where “The Impossible” (the tsunami disaster movie starring Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts) had been filmed and we superimposed a background of Paris. And it looks so realistic!

So none of it shot in Paris But you got the tax rebate in France due to the post production work?

Yes, exactly.

How much preparation went into this film?

It took over eight months of preparation. We did it entirely in pre-visualization and rehearsed with the actors for five weeks. It was a very physically demanding shoot but we had a great time with the cast. Bérénice Bejo, Nassim Lyes, everyone was very committed.

Did you get any angry calls from the mayor of Paris or the Olympic committee in Paris?

Neither! But Berenice Bejo ran into Anne Hidalgo recently and told her about the movie, and she had a very friendly reaction and said she would watch it! I didn’t hear from the Olympics committee but we heard from the organizers of the triathlon who were happy that a movie talked about them.

Your film is indirectly skewering the Olympics. Was that conscious?

We’re targeting everyone! Not just the Olympics. We’re anticipating the media circus that will go on this summer, and riffing on the ideology that’s put forward around the Olympics. In principle, the Olympics are all about bringing people from everywhere in the world, all together. And that’s great, and virtuous. But there is also a lot of hypocrisy and a commercial ideology behind this which I don’t support.

When you see how successful the film is on Netflix, do you regret that it’s not being shown in theaters around the world?

No, I don’t think about that. Netflix took a risk on the film and gave us a budget which we couldn’t have gotten elsewhere. Vincent Roget, with whom I just launched a new production banner called Good Players, had produced my previous film ‘‘Mayhem!’ and on this film he did wonders, pulling together tax rebates from France and Belgium, as well as Spain.

Do you have a sequel in the pipeline?

Right now, as of today, we’re not on it but there’s a chance that we’ll be discussing it soon. If there is a sequel, it will take place in a Paris that is entirely submerged under water.

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