Cannes Un Certain Regard Grand Prize Winner ‘Unclenching the Fists’ Sells to Mubi For North America, U.K.
Art and Experience:
Mubi, the London-based streamer and theatrical distributor that’s been on a buying spree this week in Cannes, has acquired the rights for North America, U.K., and a host of other territories for Kira Kovalenko’s “Unclenching the Fists,” which took home the top prize in the Cannes Film Festival’s Un Certain Regard section, Variety can reveal.
Set in a former mining town in Russia’s North Ossetia region, “Unclenching the Fists” is the story of a young woman, played by Milana Aguzarova, who struggles to escape the stifling hold of the family she both loves and rejects. The film is produced by two-time Oscar nominee Alexander Rodnyansky (“Leviathan,” “Loveless”).
The deal includes all rights for North America, U.K., Ireland, Latin America and India. Wild Bunch International, which is handling the film’s world sales, has also closed deals for France (ARP), Benelux (September Film), Greece (Cinobo), Italy (Movies Inspired), Portugal (Legendmain Filmes), Israel (Shani Film), Turkey (Bir), and ex-Yugoslavia (Fivia MCF).
“Unclenching the Fists” is the sophomore effort from Kovalenko, whose first feature, “Sofichka,” bowed at the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival in 2016. The 31-year-old is a graduate of the directing workshop established by Alexander Sokurov, the celebrated director of Venice Golden Lion winner “Faust,” which also produced rising Russian helmer Kantemir Balagov, who won Un Certain Regard best director honors for his 2019 Cannes sensation “Beanpole.”
Born in Nalchik, the capital of Russia’s remote Kabardino-Balkarian Republic, Kovalenko told Variety ahead of the film’s premiere that she was inspired by Sokurov’s advice to train her camera on the world around her. “He always told us that we need to show him more about ourselves. Show us how you love, show us how you live, how you treat each other, what’s going on in your families,” she said. “This was always the most important task for me.”
Wild Bunch arrived on the Croisette this year with one of its biggest slates to date, including four competition titles: Julia Ducournau’s “Titane,” Nabil Ayouch’s “Casablanca Beats,” Sean Penn’s “Flag Day” and Justin Kurzel’s “Nitram.”
The company is also repping Ari Folman’s “Where Is Anne Frank?” which plays Out of Competition; Gaspar Noé’s “Vortex” and Arnaud Desplechin’s “Deception,” which are playing in Cannes Premiere; Yassine Qnia’s “A Brighter Tomorrow,” which bowed in Directors’ Fortnight; and Wen Shipei’s “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” which had a Special Screening.
Mubi has had a busy week in Cannes, where on Friday it acquired U.K., Irish and Indian rights for buzz title “The Worst Person in the World,” directed by Norwegian writer-director Joachim Trier (“Reprise,” “Oslo, August 31st”). Earlier this week, the arthouse streamer picked up North America, U.K., and more territories on Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s “Lingui, The Sacred Bonds,” a powerful abortion drama from the Chadian auteur that has been generating Palme d’Or buzz on the Croisette. It’s also picked up rights for North America, U.K. and other territories on Sebastian Meise’s “Great Freedom,” which is playing in Un Certain Regard.
Other Mubi titles in Cannes include Andrea Arnold’s “Cow,” Mia Hansen-Løve’s “Bergman Island,” Valdimar Jóhannsson’s “Lamb,” Ducournau’s “Titane,” Leos Carax’s opening film “Annette,” Paul Verhoeven’s “Benedetta” and Sebastien Meise’s “Great Freedom.”