A sweet taste of 2004's title wave

Ae Fond Kiss
“Ae Fond Kiss” is the third pic in what might loosely be dubbed Ken Loach’s Glasgow Trilogy (following “My Name Is Joe” and “Sweet Sixteen”). “It’s not a sequel at all. It just so happens that we have made three films up in Glasgow,” says Loach’s producer Rebecca O’Brien, his co-partner in production shingle Sixteen Films.

Title comes from a song by Scotland’s national bard, Robert Burns — hence the Scots spelling of “a fond kiss.” Scripted by Loach’s regular collaborator Paul Laverty, the comedy-romance focuses on the plight of an Asian family living on the south side of Glasgow.

As usual with Loach, the cast is made up of unknowns. Shooting was completed in the summer; the filmmaker is hoping for a Cannes competition berth come 2004.

Agnes and His Brothers
Described by producer Stefan Arndt as a kind of “German Beauty” — a reference to “American Beauty” — Oskar Roehler’s upcoming “Agnes and His Brothers” is a quirky tragicomedy about a transsexual who has undergone a sex change out of love for a dancer, and his siblings: a politician whose career has cost him the love of his wife and children, and a relationship-shy librarian and compulsive voyeur.

“The characters are somewhat extreme and exaggerated, but their behavior, their relationship to one another, that’s real,” says Arndt. “Here I finally have a story that shows a realistic and interesting Germany.”

The S3.3 million ($3.8 million) pic, which was shot in Cologne, is being produced by Berlin-based X-Filme and pubcasters WDR, BR and Arte with backing from regional and federal subsidies. X Verleih is distributing in Germany.

Asylum
David Mackenzie’s “Asylum,” which wrapped in October, is not so different in theme to the filmmaker’s “Young Adam”: a story of erotic obsession set in the dreary 1950s Britain. Natasha Richardson and Ian McKellen star; playwright Patrick Marber adapted Patrick McGrath’s novel.

Not really a comedy, “although there are several delicious comedic moments,” according to Mackenzie, his gothic movie is set in a lunatic asylum where the deputy director’s wife (Richardson) is falling for inmate Edgar Stark (Marton Csokas). “Asylum” was financed by Samson Films and Woodfall Films and will be released Stateside by Paramount Classics.

“The next film I make will definitely not be a period film,” says Mackenzie. At present, he has the novel “Hallam Foe” by Scots writer Peter Jinks in development.

Blueberry
French pics don’t come much more ambitious than the long-awaited “Blueberry,” a $45 million English-language actioner helmed by “Dobermann” director Jan Kounen. Pic will hit French theaters in early 2004 after several years in gestation.

A loose adaptation of the adventures of Wild West comicbook hero Mike Blueberry, pic stars Vincent Cassel in the title role with Michael Madsen, Juliette Lewis and Eddie Izzard. But in a departure from the original Western concept, “Blueberry” the film is laden with mystic overtones.

The film’s box office performance will be crucial not only for producers Thomas Langmann and Ariel Zeitoun but also for backer UGC, which is developing an array of commercially oriented projects including several with Langmann.

Bride and Prejudice
Gurinder Chadha has described “Bride and Prejudice,” her contemporary Bollywood musical version of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice,” as “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” meets “Grease.” But since completing the Indian leg of the shoot, she says she has realized that, more than anything, it’s a British movie.

Chadha and her co-writer/husband Paul Berges have stuck close to Austen’s story, recasting it as a reluctant romance between a rich American hotelier (Martin Henderson) and a feisty Indian girl (Aishwarya Rai) with an embarassing family. The class divide that separated Austen’s lovers is replaced by a cultural and political chasm between the wealthy West and the Third World.

After her breakthrough with “Bend It Like Beckham,” Chadha has her biggest budget ever, courtesy of co-producers Pathe and Miramax. But she’s remaining true to the warm and optimistic multiculturalism of her earlier work, which insists that people, and especially women, may be shaped by their ethnicity or gender, but they need not be constrained by it.

The Brothers Grimm
Though financed by Miramax and MGM, helmer Terry Gilliam’s “The Brothers Grimm” deserves a place in the European production roundup since its 21-week-plus shoot took place entirely in the Czech Republic, using a crew comprising mostly Brits, Italians and Czechs. Like other projects by the U.S.-born but U.K.-based helmer, “Grimm” has gone over budget, spending some $78 million according to insiders, and suffered from on-set creative clashes.

Matt Damon and Heath Ledger star as the titular Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm, respectively, two con artists who travel Central Europe fleecing villagers in elaborate scams involving fake supernatural phenomena until they find a real enchanted forest.

Script was penned by Gilliam, Tony Grisoni and Ehren Kruger, and is being lensed by vet Newton Thomas Sigel (“X-Men 2″) with reputedly eye-popping set designs by relative newcomer Guy Hendrix Dyas (also “X-Men 2″). Pic has penciled in a November 2004 release.

Dear Wendy
“I’ve had a gun in my hands. It immediately gives you this strange, warm feeling of power,” says Thomas Vinterberg in reference to his latest pic, “Dear Wendy,” a S7 million ($8.1 million) Lars von Trier-scripted drama.

The setting is Esterslope, a small mining town in the impoverished American Midwest. A disaffected kid happens upon a small revolver that he names Wendy. He and other gun-brandishing misfits in town form a gang called the Dandies. They have vowed never to draw their weapons, but that pledge is soon threatened.

Jamie Bell (“Billy Elliot”) headlines a cast that includes Bill Pullman and Chris Owen.

In the wake of the furor over a perceived anti-U.S. bias in von Trier’s “Dogville,” Vinterberg insists “Dear Wendy” is not a simplistic attack on American values and gun law.

“There’s a more complex philosophical message built into it,” he says. “It’s more about opening a discussion than being moralistic about guns.”

The Downfall
A close-up look at the final days of the Nazi regime, Oliver Hirschbiegel’s “The Downfall” promises to be one of the highest-profile German projects of 2004.

“It is subject matter that hasn’t been explored by German filmmakers until now,” says Jan Mojto, whose EOS Entertainment is co-producing the film with Bernd Eichinger’s Constantin Film and pubcaster ARD. The pic, adds Mojto, is evidence that the German film community is coming to terms with Germany’s recent history.

“It’s fascinating drama,” Eichinger says. “I thought it was absolutely necessary to make this film.”

The $15.5 million film, which is lensing in St. Petersburg, Russia (substituting for Berlin), and at Bavaria Studios in Munich, stars some of Germany’s biggest thesps including two-time German Film Award winner Daniel Bruehl (“Good Bye, Lenin!”) and Bruno Ganz as Adolf Hitler.

Constantin will release “Downfall” locally Sept. 16. EOS is handling world sales.

Inside I’m Dancing
“Inside I’m Dancing” is the first Irish movie by Dublin helmer Damien O’Donnell, who made his name with two dramas set in northern England, “East Is East” and “Heartlands.”

Currently shooting, it’s an unconventional buddy movie about two handicapped boys who team up to liberate each other from institutional care. It stars James McAvoy (“Bright Young Things”) Steven Robertson and Romola Garai (“I Capture the Castle”).

The $6 million pic, scripted by Jeffrey Caine, was developed by producers James Flynn and Juanita Wilson of Octagon Films, and is being co-produced by WT2, the low-budget arm of Working Title. Universal will distribute worldwide, with co-financing from the Irish Film Board.

The Keys to the House
Gianni Amelio’s new film “Le chiavi di casa” (The Keys to the House) is inspired by “Born Twice,” Italian writer Giuseppe Pontiggia’s fictional memoir of a high school teacher who muses about his handicapped child.

Executive producer Enzo Porcelli says Amelio chose to shoot mostly in Berlin since “it is a world suspended between past and future. It is the perfect place for an Italian father and son to be reunited after a long time, because it forces them to communicate.”

In post after a 14-week shoot, “Keys” is seeking a Berlin or Cannes bow with plans for an early 2004 Italian release via RAI Cinema’s 01 distrib arm.

Life Is a Miracle
Once tapped as a likely contender for the this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Emir Kusturica’s $11 million “Life Is a Miracle,” in post, is expected to be ready in time for next year’s fest.

Kusturica took 13 months to shoot the pic in a village in Serbia, tweaking the script and even adding characters as he went along. Central plot involves a railway engineer, his wife and their son, whose lives and plans are changed violently when war breaks out in 1992.

“It has a historical background but the film doesn’t take sides, it is about war in general and how it affects the characters’ lives,” says a production source.

Loop the Loop
For Czech director Jan Hrebejk, now shooting fifth feature “Loop the Loop” in Prague and Australia, the past is prologue.

His four previous dramedies examined pivotal moments in 20th-century Czech history in an unusually accessible way, with 2000 Holocaust drama “Divided We Fall” among the final five in that year’s foreign-lingo Oscar category and this year’s “Pupendo” taking the all-time Czech B.O. crown.

Now, Hrebejk is thinking globally, grafting, with regular scripter Petr Jarchovsky, the hot-button issue of contempo ethnic migration to a framework of three intertwining stories mined from real life.

Total HelpArt founder Ondrej Trojan once again produces; key creatives are back, with Milos Forman’s actor-puppeteer son Petr in the lead. A May release is planned.

Millions
Fresh from his success with horror pic “28 Days Later,” helmer Danny Boyle has swapped zombies for mischievous Scouse kids in “Millions.” Plot has two Liverpudlian lads coming across a bag containing millions of pound notes in stolen money. They have a limited amount of time to spend it before the new euro currency is introduced in Blighty.

“It’s a warmer, more affectionate film than you might immediately expect from Danny,” says producer Graham Broadben. “He’s giving us an 8-year-old’s view of the world he is living in.”

Script is by Frank Cottrell Boyce, backers are Pathe and BBC Films. The kids are played

by unknowns, but the cast is rounded off by two well-known Brits: James Nesbitt (“Bloody Sunday”) and TV starlet Daisy Donovan. Pic will be delivered in the spring. Cannes is the likely target for a first market outing.

Out to Sea
With Spanish-language “Mar adentro” (Out to Sea) Alejandro Amenabar (“The Others”) explores the real-life case of Spaniard Ramon Sampedro (Javier Bardem) who fought a 25-year campaign to be allowed to kill himself. Pic promises a deeper emotive charge than Amenabar’s earlier work.

But “Sea” isn’t so much of a departure, says Sogecine-based producer Fernando Bovaira: “It’s about love and death, a film that’s full of life. Like Alejandro’s other movies, it’s going to surprise, but I’m not letting on how.”

Now in post, “Sea” may or may not be ready for Cannes: Amenabar is composing the score, so post-production is running longer. Pic should prove one of Europe’s biggest foreign-lingo draws of 2004.

Popular Music From Vittula
Based on Mikael Niemi’s bestselling book of the same name, “Popular Music From Vittula” is one of the most eagerly anticipated Swedish films of 2004. A somewhat raunchy story about growing up in the north of Sweden in the ’60s and the ’70s, pic is directed by Iranian-born helmer Reza Bagher (“Wings of Glass,” “Capricciosa”). Budget is estimated at $2.8 million. Film stars newcomers Max Enderfors and Andreas af Enehielm, with Swede Bjorn Kjellman and Finnish actress Kati Outinen (“The Man Without a Past”) upping the marquee value. Producer Joakim Stridsberg says that he hopes to have the film ready for a Scandi bow next fall.

The Queen of Sheba’s Pearls
With “The Queen of Sheba’s Pearls,” English-born but Sweden-residing helmer Colin Nutley makes his first feature in English. Pic is a coming-of-age tale set in the south of England in 1952; it’s slightly autobiographical but, says Nutley, more in terms of the general mood than in the depiction of actual events. Nutley’s own company, Sweetwater, is the main producer, with Svensk Filmindustri, TV4 and the Swedish Film Institute co-producing along with English company AKA Pictures. Pic’s budget is estimated at $7.5 million –high for a Swedish film. Nutley regulars Helena Bergstrom and Rolf Lassgard join a cast of British character actors with 16-year-old Rollo Weeks playing the lead. A Christmas 2004 local bow is planned.

RRRrrrr!!!
It’ll be tough for Gallic funny man Alain Chabat to better the box office score of his last pic, “Asterix & Obelix: Mission Cleopatra,” which was France’s top-grossing pic in 2002, notching up 14.5 million admissions.

But despite its unpronounceable title — even the French have trouble with it — the S15 million “RRRrrrr!!!” is almost bound to tickle cinemagoers’ funny bones in Gaul and other territories receptive to Chabat’s brand of humor.

Billed as a prehistoric murder mystery involving two rival tribes, pic features lots of jokes involving club-wielding cavemen. It was written by and stars popular Gallic comedy team Les Robins des Bois — the Robin Hoods, made famous in France by their appearances on Canal Plus.

Movie is co-produced by Chabat’s company, Wam; Les Robins des Bois Airlines; and Studio Canal, whose distribution subsid Mars Films will release the pic in France in January.

Three Suns
“Three Suns” is a surprising departure for Richard Hobert, the helmer-writer behind the dark divorce drama “Everyone Loves Alice,” which won best foreign film at the 2002 Hollywood Film Festival. “Suns,” a road movie set in 14th-century Sweden, was shot on existing locations all around the southern parts of Sweden, with Kjell Bergqvist and Lena Endre as two people trying to make their way home through a country torn by war and disease. Pic co-stars Rolf Lassgard, Maria Bonnevie and Mikael Persbrandt.

The $2.3 million pic is set for a February bow in Sweden.

Trouble
Starring Cannes honorees Benoit Magimel, Natacha Regnier and Olivier Gourmet, the cast alone should prompt interest in Belgian director Harry Cleven’s psychological drama.

Much-in-demand French actor Magimel plays photog sinister turn when he discovers the mother he believed long dead has only just passed away and that he has a twin brother. “I’ve always loved genre films and thrillers in particular,” says producer Laurent Brochand. “When I read Harry’s script I knew we had a good subject.”

The South
Dutch director Martin Koolhoven’s “The South,” a tale of unrequited passion set against the — quite literally –steamy backdrop of an industrial laundry, originated as part of a now-defunct project begun in 2000 to develop a series of Dutch Dogma movies. “The idea was to make four to five Dogma films but since then a lot happened with Dogma,” says Amsterdam-based producer Els Vandevorst. “This film has its roots in that project but it has developed into something quite different.”

The end product revolves around Martje, a lonely laundry owner who has steered clear of relationships ever since she had a mastectomy. She falls for a man but he rejects her sexual advances after seeing her body. In anger, she has him locked in the laundry boiler room, leading to tragedy.

Dutch actress Monic Hendrickx stars, supported by Russian Oksana Akinshina (“Lilya 4-Ever”). Vandevorst and Koolhoven are developing an adaptation of Dutch writer Jan Terlouw’s popular children’s book “Winter in Wartime,” about a young boy who helps a British pilot shot down over the Netherlands in World War II.

Trilogy No 1 — The Weeping Meadow
Few people would undertake the beginning of a trilogy when they’re 68 years old, but “Trilogy No. 1 — The Weeping Meadow,” set between 1919 and 1949, is the first part of an ambitious three-parter from Greek Theo Angelopoulos, detailing the relationship between two individuals spanning the 20th century. 

Filming wrapped in Greece last summer at Lake Kerkini, where an entire village was built for the film. Pic is backed by France’s Studio Canal and Italy’s Classic Films, and stars Angelopoulos regulars Vassilis Kolovos and Eva Kotamanidou.

(Profiles and productions were compiled by Roger Clarke, Eddie Cockrell, Adam Dawtrey, Leslie Felperin, Steven Gaydos, Melanie Goodfellow, Jonathan Holland, John Hopewell, Alison James, Geoffrey Macnab, Ed Meza and Archie Thomas.)

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