Local costumer tops Russian B.O.

Pic rakes in $12.45 mil in receipts, on just over 3 mil admissions

MOSCOW — Russian audiences are once again proving their loyalty to local product, with record receipts for Dzhanik Faisiyev’s “Turkish Gambit.”

Since its Feb. 22 bow, film has notched $12.45 million in receipts, on just over 3 million admissions from Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan.

First-week results for the pic came in at around $6.5 million, against $5.3 million last July for last year’s record-breaker “Night Watch” from helmer Timur Bekmambetov.

“Gambit” comes from the same stable that fostered “Night Watch,” which ended with overall B.O. north of $16 million: It’s produced by Channel One and distributed by Gemini Film.

Gemini’s release for “Gambit,” on 365 prints — against 307 for “Night Watch” — is a record number for the post-Soviet industry.

Both benefited from strong ad promotion and supporting stories on Channel One, Russia’s most-watched station. Results will be more than pleasant for Channel One producers Konstantin Ernst and Anatoly Maximov as well as for Gemini’s chief Michael Schlicht: There is a good chance the film will top local charts for the year.

If there’s an element of surprise, it’s from the fact that “Gambit” is very different in genre from “Night Watch.” While “Watch” was a fast-moving, contemporary fantasy thriller set in today’s Moscow, “Gambit” is a costumer adaptation of Boris Akunin’s detective novel, set during the 1877 Russo-Turkish war. Budget is in the $3.5 million range.

Though Akunin’s name — he’s a popular novelist whose novels about Erast Fandorin (the hero of “Gambit”) sell in the millions — certainly helps promotion, the film’s success looks like a consolidation of family-friendly fare in territory, whereas before producers were concentrating on the youth audience that “Night Watch” particularly appealed to.

Ernst tells Variety initial screenings had shown that not all viewers were aware of the historical context of the 1877 conflict, leading producers to fine-tune the pic to emphasize the visuals.

“Gambit” was exec-produced by Nikita Mikhalkov’s Tri-Te outfit (which has worked on another Channel One feature, Vladimir Khotinenko’s submarine drama “72 Meters”), and filmed most landscapes in Bulgaria, where the real-life events took place.

Up-and-coming thesp Egor Beroyev (last seen in Vladimir Mashkov’s “Papa”) looks attractive as Fandorin, with potential love interest on the side of the espionage story in his interaction with Olga Krasko as Varvara Suvorova.

“Gambit” also marks increasing use by Russian producers of foreign talent. Pic’s editor was Italian Enzo Meniconi, a past Mikhalkov collaborator, with scoring dominated by Emir Kusturica partner Goran Bregociv. Alongside the mostly Russian cast, Polish veteran Daniel Olbrychski plays a supporting role.

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