Pic budgeted at $9.4 mil, takes precedence over 'Leningrad'

ROME — Five years after his sensual Sicily-set “Malena,” Giuseppe Tornatore is back behind the camera on a dark Trieste-set tale centered around an enigmatic Eastern European au pair, a project attesting to the prominent Italo helmer’s versatility that also marks his return to working entirely with the local industry.

“It’s a tale of mystery revolving around the emotional life of a strange woman,” the Sicilian helmer tells Variety.

“La Sconosciuta” (The Stranger) is budgeted at roughly E8 million ($9.4 million), and produced by Medusa, which co-produced “Malena” with Miramax.

Pic has taken precedence over Tornatore’s previously announced big-budget project, the English-language historical epic “Leningrad,” which Medusa has now placed on hiatus, still seeking international financing for the project.

“Though there are no killers hiding in the shadows or investigators hot on their heels, “La Sconosciuta” may become labeled a noir,” says Tornatore. Shooting started Oct. 23 in Trieste, the melancholy windswept Eastern Italian seaport where James Joyce wrote “Ulysses.”

In the title role is young Russian theater and TV drama thesp Xenia Rappoport, while well-known Italo talent — including Michele Placido (“The Scent of Blood”), Margherita Buy (“Days of Abandonment”), and Claudia Gerini (“The Passion of the Christ”) — round out the cast.

Tornatore, who penned the script, is working with lenser Fabio Zamarion (“Respiro”) and his longtime editor Massimo Quaglia. Ennio Morricone, whose collaboration with Tornatore dates back to “Cinema Paradiso,” is composing the score.

Plan is for Medusa to release “La Sconosciuta” in Italy next fall.

Tornatore said he still has high hopes for “Leningrad,” a reconstruction of the Nazi siege of the Russian revolution’s birthplace.

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