Medusa sets wide-ranging slate

Co. takes rights to Cage starrer 'Wicker Man,' 'Perfume,' 'Prairie'

ROME — True to its top-dog standing, Italy’s Medusa Film is back from Cannes with a stack of freshly inked deal memos clinching promising — if somewhat edgy — titles, likely to bolster the Silvio Berlusconi-owned film company that has made diversity of pics its mantra.

“Our trademark is that we handle all types and genres of titles, both in terms of foreign acquisitions and Italian cinema,” says Giampaolo Letta, topper of the leading Italo distribution and production outfit, a sister company to the Mediaset network.

On the Croisette, Medusa finalized all-rights deals for Neil LaBute’s Nicolas Cage starrer “The Wicker Man,” from Nu Image; Tom Tykwer’s period serial-killer thriller “Perfume,” from Summit Entertainment; Brit tween pic “Stormbreaker” from Capitol Films; Robert Altman’s “A Prairie Home Companion,” also from Capitol; and the Hannibal Lecter prequel “Behind the Mask,” from Quinta Distribution and Dino De Laurentiis.

Also, Medusa acquisitions chief Faruk Alatan is in final talks to pick up Wong Kar Wai’s Nicole Kidman/Gong Li starrer “The Lady From Shanghai” from Studio Canal.

The 10-year-old Medusa has released more than 400 pics, ranging from “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy to “Dogville.” Reflecting such scope, the Gorgon-logoed company’s current releases include Ridley Scott’s “Kingdom of Heaven” and Cannes Critics’ Week entry “The Horizon of Events,” from young Italo helmer Daniele Vicari.

Woody Allen’s well-received “Match Point” also features prominently on its upcoming roster.

Having rapidly risen to become Italy’s sole distrib with the firepower to engage with the U.S. majors — it has an average 20% yearly box office share — Medusa has been steering clear of pricey mainstream Hollywood fare, most of which now goes out day-and-date via the majors anyway.

“In the past three or four years, there have been less exciting big-budget pics coming from Hollywood that are available for local distributors like us,” says Letta. Instead, the Italo market leader has been veering toward high-end Anglo indie goods and relatively big-budget Euro titles, such as flashy Jean Reno actioner “Empire of the Wolves.”

Medusa recently made its first foray into Asian fare, acquiring from Fortissimo Hong Kong helmer Tsui Hark’s epic martial-arts fantasy “Seven Swords,” which will open the Venice Film Fest.

In 2005 Medusa will lay out about E90 million ($114 million) for product. Of this sum, about $50 million is earmarked for Italian productions and $63 million for international acquisitions, about 80% of them from Hollywood.

On the production side, projects in the Medusa pipeline include new pics being developed with helmers Francesco Tornatore, Gabriele Salvatores, Paolo Virzi, Paolo Sorrentino, Dario Argento, Sergio Rubini and comic B.O. champ Leonardo Pieraccioni.

Letta said Tornatore (“Cinema Paradiso”) has momentarily set aside his announced ambitious epic “Leningrad” and will instead helm an Italian-language pic currently being scripted. Salvatores (“I’m Not Scared”) soon will tackle an English-language project that’s being picked from a trio of proposals.

Virzi (“Caterina in the Big City”) will start shooting “Napoleone” this summer, a fictional account of Napoleon’s Italian exile, to star Monica Bellucci. Sorrentino, whose “The Consequences of Love” recently swept Italy’s David di Donatello awards, will start shooting in the fall on a new picture set in Italy titled “L’Amico Ritrovato.”

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