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Waiting in the wings

High-profile pix on deck for 2005

Bimmer 2

Pyotr Buslov’s “Bimmer” — Russian slang for BMWs — was the cult hit of 2003. It not only packed in audiences but had critics lining up to cheer, a rare enough combination in any country.

It also catapulted the 28-year-old helmer, born on Russia’s Pacific coast, to the top ranks of an emerging generation of new directors. So hopes about the pic’s sequel (itself a phenomenon in the local market) are running very high. Story will follow the four down-at-heel, small-time gangsters after the shoot-out that closed part one.

Buslov, who’s also an actor, came back after a bad motorcycle stunt accident to helm. Producers are local low-budget master Sergei Chilyants and Sergei Selyanov.

Expect a down-beat, human tale that catches the details of local reality — as well as an outstanding rock-tinged soundtrack.

– Tom Birchenough

Breakfast on Pluto

Neil Jordan returns to the edgy Irish territory of “The Crying Game” and “The Butcher Boy” with “Breakfast on Pluto.”

Set in the 1960s and 1970s, Pathe Pictures film is a black comedy starring Cillian Murphy as Patrick “Kitten” Brady, an abandoned child who escapes from his foster home in small-town Ireland to become a transvestite and performer in London. Brendan Gleeson, Liam Neeson and Stephen Rea co-star.

Jordan adapted the screenplay from the 1998 Booker Prize-shortlisted novel by Patrick McCabe, who also wrote “The Butcher Boy.”

“Although there are elements of ‘The Crying Game,’ ‘The Butcher Boy’ and also ‘Mona Lisa,’ this film has a lighter and more comedic tone, with a lot of music, too,” says Pathe managing director Francois Ivernel.

– Adam Dawtrey

Call of the Toad

Polish helmer Robert Glinski (“Hi Tess”) and German scribe Klaus Richter (“Comedian Harmonists”) have brought Gunter Grass tale “Call of the Toad” to the bigscreen.

Starring Krystyna Handa (“Mephisto”) and Matthias Habich (“Nowhere in Africa”), pic is a melancholic yet funny love story centering on the historically difficult relationship between Poland and Germany after the fall of the Iron Curtain.

The controversial subject matter means that the $4.1 million German-Polish-U.K. co-production is likely to attract much attention from German and Polish critics alike.

German release date: fall 2005.

– Katja Hofmann

Count Down

Given recent developments in the territory, Russia’s “Count Down” looks almost too relevant for comfort.

Louise Lombard (“Hidalgo”) plays a Moscow-based foreign correspondent who bonds with a local army officer (Alexei Makarov) on a trip to the Caucasus. The story is terrorism connected, and both characters are ready to step out of bounds in response to circumstances. Action follows them to Moscow, through a summit in Italy and to conclusion in Tunisia.

One central scene, long kept under wraps by helmer Yevgeny Lavrentyev, is a hostage siege at a Moscow circus, all too reminiscent of real-life events.

Filming was not always a pleasant experience for Lombard, who had to go through stunts involving overturned Jeeps, and lenser Stanislav Radvansky, who kept cameras running despite freezing night shoots.

– Tom Birchenough

Defenders of Riga

The biggest pic ever to come out of the Baltic countries, Aigars Grauba’s “Defenders of Riga” returns to a crucial moment in Latvian history.

If the subject of his 2000 local hit “Dangerous Summer” was the uneasy cusp of pre-WW II German-Soviet conflict, this time it’s an earlier war story, set in October 1919.

A year after the end of official hostilities, a renegade German general and troops remain outside the Latvian capital, until citizens rise up to defeat him.

Latvian-language pic, starring Janis Reinis and Elita Klavina, is produced by Andrejs Ekis, founder of country’s top indie TV channel LNT. Ekis sold that outfit to Polish players in 2000, and on the strength of that, set up the 450-acre backlot Cinevilla, where “Riga” is being shot.

Coin is largely local, alongside co-prod funding from Estonia’s RUUT Pictures and Russia’s Telinvest. Ekis acknowledges that Latvian-lingo mainstream product may not go that far internationally (in the past, he’s thought of a double shoot with an English-language version), but expect considerable fest acclaim

– and decent income from Central European sales.

– Tom Birchenough

Enemy of the People

Director Erik Skjoldbjaerg takes one of Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen’s most powerful works and sets it in the modern landscape of western Norway in his latest film, “Enemy of the People.”

Set to bow in January, “Enemy” is produced by Nordisk Film, with sales handled by Nordisk Film Intl. Sales. Set in the modern day, this tale follows TV personality Tomas Stockman as he goes back to the village where he was born to produce the world’s purest bottled water but finds traces of pesticides. Pic also takes a tough look at media manipulation and ethics, says Norwegian Film Institute topper Jan Erik Holst.

Skjoldbjaerg has proved bold in his choice of projects: his filmography includes 2001 pic “Prozac Nation” and 1997 film “Insomnia.”

– Marlene Edmunds

Fateless

Based on the Nobel Prize-winning Holocaust account by Imre Kertez, the $13.6 million “Fateless” has the highest budget of any film ever to shoot in Hungarian and marks the directorial debut of cinematographer Lajos Koltai (“Malena,” “Sunshine”).

The cultural significance of this Hungarian-U.K.-German co-production is considered so enormous that the Hungarian government provided a special $4.9 million subsidy.

Nevertheless, production came to a halt three times. “The biggest problem was the clash between the old Eastern European attitude of just starting to shoot when you have some money and then hope for the best, and the Anglo-Saxon completion bond-based bank financing,” says L.A.-based Hungarian producer Andras Hamori, who was finally called in to rescue the film.

Release date: early 2005.

– Katja Hofmann

Floris

The Dutch hot shop of NL Film & TV doesn’t miss a trick: “Floris,” the eagerly anticipated film remake of the popular ’60s and ’70s TV series of the same name, is expected to make a big B.O. splash in Holland when it bows this month.

After all, it has got the production house of Johan Nijenhuis and Alain De Levita behind it. “Costa

– The TV Series,” “Ellis in Glamourland,” “Snow Fever” and “Full Moon Party” are just a few of their recent titles.

Then there’s prolific helmer Jean van de Velde (“All Stars,” “Leak”) lensing it, not to mention some of Holland’s top thesps including Michiel Huisman, Birgit Schuurman, Victor Low and Daan Schuurmans.

A mix of knights from the Middle Ages with a few martial arts scenes is a good bet to draw in kids and their parents who remember the original TV show.

– Marlene Edmunds

Fragile

A ghost skulks upstairs at the ancient Mercy Falls Children’s Hospital and its petrified inmates call her the mechanical girl.

Few believe the brittle-boned children that reside in the wards, except for a new nurse (Calista Flockhart).

Co-produced with Just Films, Jaume Balaguero’s “Fragile” is the biggest offering from Spain’s Filmax, an emerging European horror brand. Pic co-stars Elena Anaya and Richard Roxburgh.

Balaguero’s prior English-lingo film, “Darkness,” sold worldwide, including a U.S. Dimension pickup. “Fragile” promises an edgier and more emotionally involving tale from a director whose debut, “The Nameless,” was an exceptional study of psychological pain.

“Fragile” has secured major territory sales, and a U.S. deal is in the offing.

– John Hopewell

Frozen Land

Hot young Icelandic helmer Aku Louhimies based his latest pic, “Frozen Land,” on a Leo Tolstoy short story that Robert Bresson previously filmed as “L’argent.”

“Every generation tells its own stories,” says Louhimies, who was a fan of the story long before if was filmed by Bresson. “I wrote my first draft in 1992.”

Louhimies has two local hits behind him, mainstream romantic comedies “Lovers and Leavers” and “Restless,” and he has had success in TV. In winter 2003, his miniseries “Irtiottoja” showed national critics that he was a young helmer to watch, and it generated boffo local auds.

In “Frozen Land,” Louhimies interweaves multiple stories with a technique he mastered while filming the mini. His feature follows seven people who are in some way connected to a forged S100 bill.

Compared to Louhimies’ earlier romps, “Frozen Land” has a grittier approach. “I’m very interested in making films about real people,” he says.

Already in post-production, pic will bow locally in January.

– Antti Selkokari

The Headsman

Simon Aeby’s “The Headsman” promises to draw disturbing parallels between the Dark Ages and the not too bright modern day.

Set in the 16th-century in Austria’s Tyrol region, the English-language film examines “a period of transition in which the church is trying to quash growing threats to its hegemony by any means necessary and brutally choking off any dissent or movement towards reform,” says producer Helmut Grasser of Vienna-based Allegro Film.

Danish thesp Nicolaj Coster-Waldau (“Wimbledon”), Peter McDonald (“Felicia’s Journey”) and Anastasia Griffith (“Alfie”) co-star in the European co-production (Austria, Hungary, Germany, Luxembourg, Switzerland), which will hit theaters late next year.

– Ed Meza

Honey & the Pig

Olga Malea, holder of a doctorate in psychology from Yale, was selected as a Variety European Maverick in this issue last year, and her latest offering, “Honey & the Pig,” cements her rep as one of Europe’s boldest filmmakers.

“Honey” is a surreal comedy in which a child molester is chased by a former victim, a sexy funeral driver and a pet piglet, says the helmer.

Despite her past three pics being hits in Greece — “The Cow’s Orgasm,” “The Mating Game” and “Risotto” clocked a combined 700,000 admissions — finding the finance for “Honey” was no walk in the park. Malea tells Variety: “Greek producers were hesitant about touching the issue of child sexual abuse. In fact, there is not a single Greek movie on this subject.”

After two years on the money hunt, Malea secured financial support from Papandreou, Attika, Mega and the Greek Film Center for her S650,000 ($848,000) pic.

Despite the difficulties, Malea never had doubts about tackling the topic. “I hope ‘Honey’ will make people talk more about the subject and stop it from happening in secret. Silence is the best ally of child sexual abuse,” she says.

“Honey” goes out on 25 prints in Greece on Jan. 7 through Prooptiki.

– Archie Thomas

Hostage

Greek helmer Constantine Giannaris’ fourth feature, “Hostage,” is based on the real-life 1999 hijacking of an intercity bus by a desperate young Albanian emigrant. But it was always the director’s intention to widen the focus.

“The hijacking marks a critical moment in the shift of Greek perceptions of immigration, and coming at a time of the war in Kosovo, helped to galvanize the xenophobic and irrational fears which Greek society had in relation to its new army of reserve labor coming from former socialist countries,” says Giannaris.

Helmer is no stranger to making road movies where strangers are thrown together. His last pic, “One Day in August,” examines the personal problems encountered by three couples fleeing Athens’ summer heat for the weekend.

The $1.3 million Greek-Turkish co-production was shot in Northern Greece and Albania with a cast comprising mainly of non-pros.

Given the 1999 hijacking incident took place in the film-mad city of Thessaloniki, it is no surprise that a Nov. 26 work-in-progress screening at the city’s film fest was packed to the rafters.

Pic will bow in Greece in early March.

– Archie Thomas

Manderlay

Lars von Trier’s “Manderlay,” his follow-up to the divisive “Dogville,” is set to bow in May.

Pic follows Bryce Dallas Howard (“The Village,” replacing Nicole Kidman as Grace), after the events of the first pic. Grace and her father travel to Manderlay, a plantation in Alabama where slavery rends the social fabric.

Film is scripted and helmed by von Trier, with Vibeke Windelov in a producer’s role. Cast includes Isaach de Bankole (“Coffee and Cigarettes”), Danny Glover, Jeremy Davis, Lauren Bacall and Jean-Marc Barr.

– Marlene Edmunds

Man’s Job

Writer-director Aleksi Salmenpera is hard at work writing a script about a factory worker who, through a twist of fate, comes to work for a male escort service.

“Man’s Job” will be produced by Blindspot Pictures. Blindspot topper Tero Kaukomaa says of the pic’s distrib prospects: “Since we have an output deal with Sandrew Metronome, we’ll have Nordic distribution secured, provided that the co-production deal with Sweden’s Film i Vast materializes.”

Salmenpera is using the story of a man who is ashamed of his work to explore themes of pride and ego. The 32-year-old helmer’s debut feature, “Producing Adults,” is Finland’s foreign-lingo Oscar entry this year. Pic is doing the fest circuit.

“Man’s Job” will start shooting in mid-2005.

– Antti Selkokari

Man to Man

Gallic helmer Regis Wargnier’s ambitious $28 million English-lingo period pic “Man to Man” toplines Kristin Scott Thomas as an adventuress and Joseph Fiennes as a 19th century scientist out to find the missing link in Africa.

Penned by Wargnier and William Boyd, the movie also stars Iain Glen, Hugh Bonneville and two unknowns — Lomama Boseki, a Pygmy from Central African Republic and Cecile Bayiha, from Cameroon.

Shot in South Africa, Cornwall and Scotland, “Man to Man” turned out to be much more of an adventure than anyone had bargained on.

The day before the cameras started rolling in February this year, Gallic producers Vertigo learned to their dismay that the British government had outlawed the film’s use of the Section 48 tax break — blowing a hole in the international co-production’s finances.

Production went ahead anyway, with Vertigo plugging the hole with its own money — some $13 million that the company must be recoup via future foreign sales, which are being handled by Wild Bunch. “The choice was do that or don’t make the film,” says producer Farid Lahouassa.

“Man to Man” represents a new direction for Vertigo, best known as the producer of the hugely successful Gallic franchise “Would I Lie to You?,” set in Paris’ rag trade quarter.

“These days, comedies, actioners and horror pics are the staple fare of the markets,” Lahouassa notes, “and quality pics like ‘Man to Man,’ with a strong viewpoint by an international auteur, are definitely a harder sell. But we’re proud to have made the film we wanted to make.”

– Alison James

Merry Christmas

With its international cast and story, French helmer Christian Carion’s World War I-set, $22 million “Merry Christmas” has all the ingredients of a Euro film par excellence.

Its ensemble cast includes Germany’s Diane Kruger, Benno Formann and Daniel Bruhl, France’s Guillaume Canet and Britain’s Gary Lewis, in a true tale of peace and goodwill on the battlefront of Christmas 1914.

Producer Christophe Rossignon’s Nord Ouest Prods. — whose credits include Mathieu Kassovitz’ “La Haine” and Gaspar Noe’s “Irreversible” — financed the ambitious pic with coin from the U.K., Germany Belgium and Romania, where four-fifths of it was shot.

He is hoping to release it simultaneously in France, Belgium, Germany and the U.K. for Christmas 2005.

For helmer Carion the film — following closely after another WW I pic, Jean- Pierre Jeunet’s “A Very Long Engagement” — reps a major shift in scale.

It is only his second feature after the low-budget Gallic sleeper hit “The Girl From Paris” starring Michel Serrault and Mathilde Seigner, which notched up more than 2 million admissions in France in 2002.

“Merry Christmas” was a project the helmer had long wanted to bring to the bigscreen, having read about the incident — in which soldiers from across the lines came together to celebrate Christmas — years ago.

“I was profoundly moved that enemy soldiers on the frontline had lain down their arms to celebrate Christmas together,” says Carion. “In making this film I want to transmit some of the emotion I felt.”

The helmer adds: “I’m probably naive but I believe that this sort of improbable, impossible encounter could happen in any conflict.”

– Alison James

The Missing Star

Gianni Amelio is scheduled to start shooting next year on “The Missing Star,” a big-budget project about a mammoth Naples steel mill dismantled and then rebuilt in China.

Pic about East-West cultural differences will mark the first time an Italo helmer has shot in China since Bernardo Bertolucci’s “The Last Emperor” (1987).

“Missing Star” — which is yet to be cast — will be the second Amelio pic boarded by Lakeshore Intl. as a co-producer.

The Italo auteur’s previous work, “The House Keys,” is Italy’s contender for the 2004 foreign-language Oscar. It was recently sold by Lakeshore to 31 countries, including the U.S., for which it was acquired by Lions Gate.

– Nick Vivarelli

Mother of Mine

During World War II, more than 70,000 Finnish children were evacuated to neutral Sweden to avoid the conflict.

“Mother of Mine,” the latest from the award-winning Klaus Haro (“Elina”), tackles that painful patch of history in a tale of 9-year-old Eero, a child who increasingly feels abandoned by his biological Finnish mother and yet not attached to his Swedish surrogate mom.

When he is returned to Finland, his confusion intensifies.

Pic, produced by Matila Rohr Prods. for release in September, is the first fictionalized account of this sensitive subject in Finnish history.

– Marlene Edmunds

The Nomad

Take a Hollywood cast and international production team and transport them to the remote wildernesses of the Central Asia steppes. That’s the production setup for “The Nomad,” a lavish historical epic covering 18th-century Kazakhstan history, as movie’s hero tries to unite three tribes into a nation.

For co-producer (with Milos Forman) and scripter Rustam Ibragimbekov (“Burnt by the Sun”), the world knows about cowboys, gladiators and samurai — but not nomads. The film will feature three huge, spectacular open-air sets and with plenty of horse work.

Jason Scott Lee and Mark Dacascos play the English-lingo leads.

Local funding problems on the $25 million pic meant that a plan for an autumn 2003 shoot was pushed back and back. The cast returned this year, but there was a change in crew. Helmer Ivan Passer and lenser Ueli Steiger were replaced by Sergei Bodrov (“Prisoner of the Mountains”) and Dan Aarup Laustsen, respectively.

– Tom Birchenough

NVA

Director Leander Haussmann (“Berlin Blues”) and scribe Thomas Brussig, the duo responsible for 1999 hit East German comedy “Sonnenallee” (Sun Alley) are back with “NVA,” a humorous look at life in East Germany’s military.

Pic follows the misadventures of a group of new draftees in the National People’s Army during the Cold War.

“M.A.S.H.” meets “Private Benjamin” on the other side of the Iron Curtain, pic focuses on the recruits as they try to cope with the loss of sex, drugs and alcohol, and everything else they hold dear, during their 18 months of service protecting the country from the evils of Western capitalism and a possible NATO attack.

Pic, produced by Boje Buck Produktion, will hit theaters in the summer.

– Ed Meza

Once You Were Born

After becoming a cinematic cause celebre with the six-hour “Best of Youth,” Marco Tullio Giordana is shooting “Quando sei nato” (Once You Were Born), a coming-of-age drama about a 12-year-old Italian boy rescued from a boating accident by a group of illegal immigrants.

Giordana’s depiction of contempo multiracial Italy seen through adolescent eyes stars “Youth” protag Alessio Boni and Manuela Cescon as the boy’s parents. It is skedded for a spring delivery.

An epic about Italy’s so-called 1968 generation, “Youth” was originally made for TV and then repackaged as a two-part theatrical release, becoming a breakout domestic and international arthouse success in 2003.

– Nick Vivarelli

The Red Baron

Teutonic ace Manfred von Richthofen, better known as the Red Baron, is finally getting the bigscreen treatment.

Nikolai Muellerschoen is directing the pic from his own screenplay, which follows von Richthofen’s brief wartime career as he single-handedly decimated Allied air power by shooting down 80 enemy aircraft

– more than any other pilot in the war.

Roland Pellegrino and Michel Morales’ Miromar Entertainment and Munich-based Orange Pictures are producing the effects-heavy pic, budgeted at between $25 million and $30 million.

German thesp Matthias Scwheighoefer is in talks to portray the famed pilot, whose good looks, daring aerial acrobatics and untimely death transformed him into a kind of Teutonic James Dean in World War I-era Germany.

In addition to detailing his rise as a pilot and iconic hero in Germany’s war effort, pic will recount the young von Richthofen’s blossoming relationship with an idealistic young nurse during the war.

Principal photography is set to start in February in Ludwigsburg.

– Ed Meza

Ruins

In gestation for over two years, Janez Burger’s “Ruins” centers on a charismatic theater director and his bid to put on a performance that will outshine all his previous productions. In the process, he uncovers a long-lost dramatic text with sensational repercussions.

Backed by the Slovenian Film Fund, the newest member of the European Film Promotion, “Ruins” was produced by E-Motion, one of the most successful Slovenian film production companies to emerge in the 1990s.

Burger’s 1999 hit “Idle Running” won several international awards including the Grand Prix at the Moscow fest four years ago.

– Leo Barraclough

The Secret Life of Words

Produced by El Deseo and Mediapro, and shot in Madrid and Northern Ireland on a budget of around $5 million, Isabel Coixet’s skeletons-in-the-closet English-language drama “The Secret Life of Words” is partly set on a North Sea oil rig, stirring echoes of Lars von Trier’s “Breaking the Waves.”

It looks likely to generate a similar emotional intensity. Sarah Polley, reteaming with Coixet after “My Life Without Me,” plays textiles factory worker Hanna, who ends up staying for a few days on the rig, where she meets burn victim Josef (Tim Robbins), a group of guys played by the likes of Spain’s Javier Camara and Norway’s Sverre Anker Ousdal, and a goose called Lisa.

Focus Features has international rights to the pic.

– Jonathan Holland

Shop of Dreams

“Shop of Dreams,” a $780,000 dramedy, follows a young costume designer (Maarja Jakobson) who returns from vacation to find that the TV studio she worked for has gone bankrupt. Together with two friends, a seamstress and a makeup artist, she starts a company that helps people make their dreams come true.

“It’s a comedy, but it’s also a universal story about people losing their jobs and making a fresh start and using their ingenuity. It reflects the reality of many Eastern Europeans today,” says Estonian producer Anneli Ahven, who found a Finnish co-producer to finance the pic.

The film marks the return of Estonian helmer Peeter Urbla (“Baltic Love Stories”) to the director’s chair after having worked as a producer for more than a decade.

Release date: April

– Katja Hofmann

Sprung! The Magic Roundabout

U.K./France co-production “Sprung! The Magic Roundabout” will bow in Blighty and Gaul in February, and Pathe is so confident that it will do boffo biz that it has begun developing a sequel.

Pic is a remake of the hit TV puppet show “The Magic Roundabout,” which was launched in 1964 on both sides of the English Channel and regularly attracted auds of 8 million viewers. The surreal characters and fantastical elements made “Roundabout” a cult hit with easily amused hippies.

The $20 million 3-D toon was financed by Pathe U.K., which will also distribute it in Blighty. France’s Film Action and U.K.’s Bolex Bros./SPZ co-produce.

Frenchman Serge Danot created the show, which was adapted for British TV by Emma Thompson’s father, Eric. Original episodes ran for five minutes before the early evening news. Pathe enlisted three scribes and three helmers to update and expand “Roundabout.”

A host of U.K. acting talent, including Jim Broadbent, Bill Nighy, Ian McKellen, Joanna Lumley and Ray Winstone voice parts. Pop stars Robbie Williams and Kylie Minogue were also drafted to sex up the vintage characters.

Before the work-in-progress screenings at AFM, Miramax pacted with Pathe to distribute the pic in North and South America. “Sprung!” will complete post in January.

– Archie Thomas

The Sun

For many the heir to Soviet master Andrei Tarkovsky, Alexander Sokurov has long been Russia’s most prolific arthouse helmer, feted for features and docus alike. His single-shot, digital “Russian Ark” (2002) scored considerable success. So expect the major fests to be after his latest, “The Sun,” if it’s ready by its skedded mid-January completion.

“The Sun,” set in Tokyo in the last half of 1945, follows interaction between defeated Emperor Hirohito (name of Japanese thesp undisclosed) and Gen. MacArthur (Robert Dawson). Script is by long-term scenarist Yury Arabov, with Sokurov directing and lensing. Marco Muller’s Downtown Pictures is backing the pic along with Igor Kalenov’s Nikola-film and composer Andrey Sigle’s Proline-film.

– Tom Birchenough

The Three Musketeers

In the second feature-length animated film from the Latvian-Danish puppet animation studio Aboom — a joint venture between the Latvian shingle AB and Lars von Trier’s Zentropa — great detail is spent on the action and fencing scenes. The film’s target audience is not just children but adults.

Post-production is expected to wrap in April.

Latvian Janis Cimermanis (“Prop and Berta”) helmed the adaptation of the Dumas novel with a budget of $1.7 million; it’s a co-production of Latvia, Denmark and the U.K.

– Katja Hofmann

The Tiger and the Snow

After his lavish adaptation of “Pinocchio” — which flopped mightily outside Italy — Italo actor-director Roberto Benigni is in production on “The Tiger and the Snow,” a comedy about a love-struck poet who winds up in Iraq at the outset of last year’s U.S.-led invasion.

Representing a return to a more “Life Is Beautiful”-like tale, “Tiger” will combine comedy and historical tragedy.

Just as in “Life,” and all the other comedies he has helmed, Benigni will be in hot pursuit of a woman played by his real-life wife, Nicoletta Braschi. Other key cast includes Jean Reno as an Arab poet named Faud. Current plan is for a December 2005 Italo release.

– Nick Vivarelli

Trance

At 38 years old, Teresa Vilaverde is one of Portugal’s best known young directors, with four feature films to her credit. She recently directed a short as part of Zentropa’s “Visions of Europe” series and her next feature, “Trance,” continues this European journey.

“Trance,” set to premiere in the third quarter of 2005, tells the tale of Sonia, a young Russian girl who leaves her country in search of brighter horizons but is caught up in a white slave traffic ring. Forced to confront the “face of evil” — both around her and within her — she attempts to escape but fails.

Sonia is an enigmatic heroine — a hallmark of Vilaverde’s films — who struggles to keep the flickering flame of hope alive in a world of darkness.

– Martin Dale

The Tuner

Visa problems kept Kira Muratova from getting to the Venice fest world premiere of her latest film “The Tuner,” but, in a sense, her absence wasn’t important — the Odessa-based helmer’s presence was felt anyway.

Indeed, she’s been a big player on the European arthouse circuit the last 15 years since her lacerating perestroika-era drama “The Aesthenic Syndrome” took Berlin’s Silver Bear in 1990.

That pic caught the last hints of local censorship, something to which Muratova had long been accustomed: her two early works, “Brief Encounters” (1967) and “Long Goodbyes” (1971), were long held “on the shelf,” released only in 1987, and seen in the West thanks to the efforts of, among others, Marco Muller.

During the 1990s, a lean time for funds in Ukraine, she nevertheless managed to make three features and a short. “The Tuner,” starring thesps Alla Demidova and Nina Ruslanova, alongside character actress Renata Litvinova, is the third feature she’s made since 2000. Recently celebrating her 70th birthday, the distinctive director — one critic remarked that Muratova is her own genre –is one of very few remaining representatives from the classic generation of Tarkovsky and Paradzhanov and is still going strong.

– Tom Birchenough

The Wedding Party

Dominic Deruddere’s inventive and original 2001 farce “Everybody’s Famous” made the Oscar shortlist for best foreign-language film three years ago.

Deruddere’s latest offering, based on the comicbook “Lune de Guerre” by Hermann & Van Hamme and co-directed with Jean Van Hamme, shows an equally deft comic touch.

Determined to get his money’s worth at his son’s wedding, Herman Walzer books the best restaurant in the best location he can find. But the reception is soon turned into a battlefield after a minor incident escalates into a full-scale hostage siege.

Backed by VAF, NRW, FFF, Eurimages, Mediaprogramma van de Europese Gemeenschap, pic will open in October.

– Dominic Timms

Wolfhound

Still shy of 40, Nikolai Lebedev looks set to become one of Russia’s biggest helming talents. Beginning in 1997 with a couple of alternative small movies, he scored with the acclaimed patriotic WWII pic “The Star” two years ago.

But the challenge of new movie “Wolfhound” is bigger — an $8 million-$10 million Slavic fantasy, from a novel by Maria Semenova, that producer Ruben Dishdishyan of Central Partnership is projecting as the territory’s follow-up to this year’s smash “Night Watch.”

So far signs look promising: location shooting in Europe, the largest sets that top local studio Mosfilm has seen in 25 years, and some lavish special f/x — budgeted around the $1 million mark — after shooting wraps at the end of the year.

Expect a preview at the Cannes Market.

– Tom Birchenough

Wrong Side Up

Czech helmer Ptr Zelenka’s bittersweet comedy “Wrong Side Up” turns on failed human relationships.

The $1.6 million Czech-German-Slovak co-production is based on Zelenka’s highly successful play and features the dark, witty sense of humor for which Zelenka has become known.

“I would say that in this film the humor is more accessible than in his previous films. Ptr’s films are considered very commercial in the Czech Republic, but let’s face it: In the rest of the world they’re still arthouse,” says producer Pavel Strnad, of Czech production shingle Negativ.

Czech release date: 2005.

– Katja Hofmann

The Wycked Life of Brian Jones

Stephen Woolley, who produced 1960s-set projects “Scandal” and “Backbeat,” always planned to make his directorial debut with a pic about the short, hedonistic life and controversial death of Rolling Stones guitarist Brian Jones.

Woolley owns the rights to three books on Jones’ life, and, along with scribes Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, has spent much of the last 10 years piecing together what exactly happened in the heady days before Jones drowned in a swimming pool in July 1969, just three weeks after Keith Richards and Mick Jagger kicked him out of the band for erratic, drug-fueled behavior.

Woolley’s labor of love wrapped shooting in late November.

Paddy Considine (“Dead Man’s Shoes”) plays Frank Thoroughgood, Jones’s live-in handyman, who on his death bed allegedly confessed to killing his employer. Ben Whishaw (“Layer Cake”) limns Richards and David Morrissey (“Captain Corelli’s Mandolin”) is Jones’ minder.

Pic is financed by Paul White’s Audley Films and sold worldwide by Intandem Films. Finola Dwyer (“The Hamburg Cell”) is producing.

– Archie Thomas

Zozo

Lebanese-born Swedish transplant Josef Fares grabbed international acclaim with his first feature, “Jalla Jalla.” He followed it with another comedy, “Kops,” about cops in a small Swedish town.

Now, he’s back as lenser and scripter of “Zozo,” his first drama, produced by Anna Anthony with Swedish Memfis Film. The Arabic and Swedish tale is about Zozo, an 11-year-old-boy who grows up in Beirut. Despite the ongoing conflict, he manages to live a normal life, going to school and playing with friends until one day disaster strikes and he is on his own.

Pic, with a budget of $6 million, is set to bow in September.

– Marlene Edmunds

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