Rome’s largest theater chain, Mondialcine, is up for rent. And the prospect of controlling the historic chain, founded by the Amati family after World War II, has whetted the appetite of every distrib in Italy.

Bidders include media baron Silvio Berlusconi, the public film group Ente Gestione Cinema, neo-distrib Angelo Rizzoli and expanding distribbery Artisti Associati. All are eager to control a key group of theaters in the capital, where playoff dates are tight and a splash debut can make a film.

The only obstacle is the price: $22 million for the right to manage 25 hardtops for nine years. Bidders are biding their time until the price falls.

The Mondialcine race started last month, when Vincenzo Romagnoli sold part of his powerful holding company Acquamarcia. The sale transferred ownership, but not management control, of 13 Mondialcine theaters to a consortium headed by Giuseppe Cabassi, a Milanese financier and former partner of MGM president Giancarlo Parretti. Cabassi, in fact, appears to have been aided indirectly in the acquisition when he made an alliance with Parretti’s moneyman, Florio Fiorini.

But a major preoccupation of many – foremost among them the trade union of Mondialcine workers, who went on strike when the news broke – is that the chain could be split up and management handed over to individuals. Many tenants would be happy to turn the choice Roman real estate into banks, stores and offices. Though authorization to convert a cinema is hard to obtain, similar things have been done in the past without permission.

An even greater worry for producers and distribs, however, is the specter of Berlusconi obtaining control of the group. Through Pentafilm’s exhibition wing Cinema 5, he already controls 42 key screens throughout the country. Most observers agree that Mondialcine would give Penta a stranglehold on exhibition.

Gianluigi Della Casa, d.g. for Cinema 5, told VARIETY that not only price, but certain unmet “guarantees and conditions,” kept Berlusconi from taking over the chain. This could mean Berlusconi prefers to buy, not rent, his hardtops. But many say what really holds him back is reluctance to be perceived as having an exhib monopoly.

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