What’s in a poster? Standing in the foyer of Cinema 1 at the Barbican last weekend, waiting for the audience to stumble out of the 2pm session of Agnieszka Holland’s Nazi escape drama In Darkness, I couldn’t help wondering as I noticed the starkly contrasting styles adopted to promote that film and this week’s title, the latest film from Belgium’s Brothers Dardenne, The Kid with a Bike.
In marketing The Kid with a Bike, UK distributor Artificial Eye has stuck pretty close to its trademark brand of cool, unaffected (and slightly vague) minimalism, opting for a basic, lower-case typeface and a subtle main image that says more about the mood of the film than the action contained within. An extreme close up of the central character holds his long eyelashes in sharp focus, letting the rest of his downcast face blend into a loose-fitting red t-shirt. Aside from a row of four-star reviews, the text is plan, clean and unadorned, perfectly in keeping with Artificial Eye’s usual house style.
In Darkness is in UK cinemas courtesy of Metrodome, a medium-sized distributor who furrow a relatively solid mix of middlebrow arthouse and low budget genre pieces. Their speciality, in some senses, is mining the grey area between the two, particularly when maximising the broad appeal of European films by bringing out their genre elements via shrewd marketing. The Oscar nominated In Darkness certainly sits comfortably within this terrain, the grueling story of a group of Polish Jews who escaped the Nazis by hiding in the sewers of Lvov.
For In Darkness, Metrodome have once again stuck largely to their genre base, eschewing the vague minimalism of firms like Artificial Eye with another poster that tells you more or less all you need to know about the film. A bold title cuts the poster in two, the upper image bathed in light and featuring the central character and his colleague scrambling into a sewer – one holding a pistol which is pointed squarely at a swastika banner in the background. (Curiously, unless I missed something, guns are largely absent from these scenes and the swastika banners are nowhere to be seen.) The top image leads directly down to the lower one, which features the group huddled in a dark, dank sewer, led by a man in with a Star of David armband. (Coincidentally, the second man in the bottom image is remarkably reminiscent of Tommy Lee Jones and if you squint, the man in front looks a little like Harrison Ford – the sight of the two of them clambering down a tunnel bringing to mind a pivotal scene from The Fugitive!)
It is also interesting to compare the plaudits offered up on each poster, with Metrodome choosing two four-star reviews and four festival laurels – Dublin, Glasgow, Kinoteka (London Polish) and Toronto Film Festivals – for In Darkness, whereas Artificial Eye only cite The Kid with a Bike‘s Grand Prix at Cannes, but opt for a quartet of four-star reviews. Both posters pick out reviews that highlight key words: The Kid with a Bike simply described as ‘intriguing, exciting, amusing, moving’ by Nick Roddick in the Evening Standard, but Metrodome go one step further for In Darkness, literally picking out key words – ‘incredible’, ‘courage’, ‘humanity’, ‘triumph’, ‘epic’, ‘uplifting’ – and treating them to a larger font size for added emphasis.
Aside from the quotes and Cannes laurel, the UK poster for The Kid with a Bike is largely untouched by the usual marketing adornments (excluding the obligatory listing of director and stars). On the other hand, as well as highlighting genre elements to attract a wider audience, Metrodome choose to highlight a number of key points on their poster for In Darkness, most prominently it’s existence as a 2012 Academy Award Nominee and the veracity-clasping tagline ‘Based on the true World War II Story’.
All this is not to suggest, of course, that either approach to marketing is better or worse, merely to highlight the different tactics and approaches employed by two of Britain’s key independent distributors in marketing European films to local audiences. And a good way to pass the time whilst waiting for the brief flurry of activity that accompanies the emptying of one screening and the seating of another.