Favorites 'Bread,' 'Malena' left out

ROME — In a surprise decision that left the two widely favored front-runners out in the cold, director Marco Tullio Giordana’s mafia drama “The Hundred Steps” has been chosen as Italy’s Oscar submission in the foreign-language category.

Based on the true story of a Sicilian youth in the 1960s who refused to bow to his family’s mob connections and was assassinated for his outspokenness, the film was produced by Fabrizio Mosca in association with RAI Cinema. Released domestically by Istituto Luce, it defied poor commercial expectations for the genre, with robust grosses exceeding $1.5 million.

The selection of Giordana’s film was an unexpected one given that the nod generally was tipped to go to Silvio Soldini’s hit comedy “Bread and Tulips,” which recently was picked up for U.S. release by First Look; or to Giuseppe Tornatore’s erotic period drama “Malena,” which was co-produced by Miramax and will open in the U.S. late November.

Fest winner

Premiered in competition at the Venice Film Festival this fall, “The Hundred Steps” was awarded the best screenplay prize for Claudio Fava, Monica Zapelli and Giordana. The drama is being sold internationally by Rome-based Intra Films.

Italy won the 1998 foreign-language film Academy Award for Roberto Benigni’s “Life is Beautiful.” Other recent wins for the country were “Mediterraneo” in 1991 and “Cinema Paradiso” in 1989.

This year’s selection was announced Wednesday by Italian producers association ANICA and was chosen by the voters of the national David di Donatello film awards.

Adding to the list of European submissions for the foreign-lingo Oscar category, Poland has submitted Krzysztof Zanussi’s philosophical “Life as a Fatal Sexually Transmitted Disease” as its entry. Pic won the top prize, the Gold St. George, at this year’s Moscow Intl. Film Festival.

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