Searching for Sugar Man: Europudding and issues of authenticity
The internationalisation of European cinema has also attracted negative associations, with critics branding certain multi-national films as ‘Euro-pudding’ (Liz, 2014). The term emerged in 1989 and among many other titles, has been used to refer to films like Vincent and Theo (Robert Altman, Netherlands/UK/France/Italy/Germany, 1990), a film about the life of Vincent van Gogh, and The House of Spirits (Bille August, Portugal/Germany/Denmark/USA, 1993), adaptation of the Isabel Allende novel. More contemporary examples include Goya’s Ghosts (Milos Forman, USA/Spain, 2007), Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (Tom Tykwer, Germany/France/Spain/USA, 2006) and L’auberge Espagnole (Cedric Klapisch, France/Spain, 2002).
The term broadly describes multinational co-productions focusing on stories of universal appeal, which have been designed to work in different countries, and produced as co-productions due to the necessities of funding rather than the desire of filmmakers to work together (Liz, 2014). Built into the terminology has been an understanding of European cinema as art and hence the dismissal of those European films, that like the films of Hollywood, are conceived as commodities rather than artistic expressions (Liz, 2014). Euro-pudding films are seen to represent fabricated, transnational identities; like those of Europe or the Nordic region, which in reality do not exist as homogeneous. Many of the interviewees in this study acknowledge this dilemma, pointing out that these transnational, often English language films risk lacking authenticity, and ending up feeling like they are from nowhere.
However, as co-productions and international financing have become a necessity for the existence of independent film business in Europe, the euro-pudding debate seems somewhat outdated (Börjeson, 2018). With younger producer generations being more business savvy, and actively looking abroad for new financing opportunities, seems redundant to think that a business-oriented approach to packaging, financing and distribution, would somehow not be aboveboard in Europe or the Nordic region. As long producers do not alter projects in order to maximise their chances of accessing foreign state subsidies, but finance films in a way that does not conflict with the project’s creative aims, it is hard to see issues with European producers aiming for the international market.
The issue of authenticity is fascinating when looking at the two adaptations of Stieg Larsson’s novel The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. As the Swedish original adaptation, Män Som Hatar Kvinnor (Oplev, 2009) was appropriating from common action and crime thriller conventions it was arguably more ‘American’ than the slow-paced dramas stereotypically associated with Scandinavian productions (Mazdon, 2015). Additionally, the film’s distribution strategy, especially in the UK, focused around deliberately disguising the title’s ‘foreign’ origins, with the British distributor Momentum declaring that ‘they did not want the film to be constrained by its foreignness’ (Mazdon, 2015).
David Fincher’s 2011 version produced by Columbia Pictures, on the other hand, was keen to preserve the source material’s Swedishness by keeping the story at its local setting, filming in Sweden and by collaborating with Swedish crew, including a Swedish cinematographer. Visually the film includes heavy referencing to the harsh winter conditions and isolation experienced by the main character in the Swedish countryside. Unlike many other Hollywood remakes, Fincher’s film seems to embrace the Europeanness of its cinematic and written sources, making foreignness as a selling point for the remake (Mazdon, 2015).
Below, I have looked at the gross BO numbers for both films in the Nordic countries, the US, UK and worldwide. It is clear that the original language film gained a significantly broader audience in the Nordic region, staying in cinemas more than 24 weeks in each country. Combined with good domestic and UK numbers the original film was a success, although within the limitations of a foreign language film. By looking at the UK and US numbers, between the two titles, it is clear that foreign language films are still perceived as speciality arthouse titles in the Anglo-Saxon market.
Regarding Fincher’s film, for a $90M Sony title the below numbers are a disappointment. There are many speculations for why the film did not perform better, including premiere dating and programming, but the key issue is perhaps in the inflated budget – maybe shooting in Sweden for the sake of authenticity, with no tax incentive in place, was problematic after all (Thompson, 2011).
Source: Box Office Mojo, 2018.
*This blog post is part of a larger research project titled: Searching for Sugarman - How, why and to what effect are Nordic producer turning to English language to obtain growth and sustainability for their business.
*For full bibliography as well as an outline of research methods and interviews, please refer to the first post in the series - which can be found here.