Spain gets history lesson

Crop of pricey pix take B.O. chances

MADRID — In 2006, Spain will discover whether size matters. Spain’s powerful FAPAE producers association has launched an offensive to persuade the government to raise film tax breaks beyond currently negligible 5% write-offs.

Spain grabbed a 16% B.O. market share in 2005, per Culture Minister stats — its second-best performance since 1984, after 2001’s 18%. But producers complain that without better tax breaks, Spain will never become a production hub like the U.K.

Despite a lack of government support, an armada of higher-budget historical pics — several with well-known English-speaking thesps — are planned in the next year:

— Viggo Mortensen plays a swashbuckler in the Telecinco/Origen-financed, $25 million “Captain Alatriste,” due in September.

— Caspar Zafer leaps from boudoir to battlefield for Vicente Aranda’s $19 million sex romp “The Maiden’s Conspiracy: Tirant Lo Blanc” set at the siege of Constantinople, bowing Feb. 17.

— Lolafilms’ $10 million Latam dictatorship expose “The Feast of the Goat” opens March 10.

— The $9 million Paz Vega-starrer “Teresa,” about mystic Saint Therese of Avila, is shooting.

— Menno Meynes’ $17 million bullfight romance “Manolete” rolls March 20, with Adrien Brody and Penelope Cruz.

— Antena 3 is bankrolling $12 million Renaissance dynasty drama “The Borgias.”

— Elena Anaya (“Van Helsing”) will play Shakespeare and Cervantes’ common love interest in romcom “Miguel and William.”

— Spain’s Xuxa Producciones is producing Milos Forman’s “Goya’s Ghosts,” with Javier Bardem and Natalie Portman.

— Director Antonio del Real will direct “La conjura del Escorial,” a $12 million palace-skullduggery thriller set under Philip II, with an international cast.

Several new directors have projects in the pipeline: most-awaited debuts are probably Felix Viscarret’s “Bajo las estrellas,” a bohemian’s coming-of-age story, and Rodrigo Cortes’ “The Contestant,” a fast-paced, sardonic satire of consumerism.

Spain’s biggest international event will be the bow of Pedro Almodovar’s “Volver.” But the higher-tab historical movies will make or break Spanish film this year.

Their emergence is market- and finance-driven. “Production’s dividing into bigger- and low-budget films: there’s little market for middle-range pics,” says “William” producer Antonio Saura. “The Americans used to make historical films in Spain. We now have more financial muscle to do them ourselves,” adds “Maiden” co-producer Enrique Viciano.

DeAPlaneta, an aggressive new producer, is backing “Maiden” and “Conjura.” “Maiden,” “Feast,” “Teresa” and “William” tap equity and tax coin from Blighty’s Future Films.

The TV sector is also shoveling coin into pics. Spain’s main broadcasters are obliged to invest $40 million plus annually to meet local film financing quotas, and bigger-budget pics make it easier to meet quotas. “TV operators are looking for big projects to co-produce,” producer Juan Gordon says.

Box office results remain to be seen, but the upcoming pics are at least attracting attention. Last week, the Bishop of Tarazona thundered in a letter against Paz Vega’s “morbidly sexy” embodiment of Saint Therese. For producers, with enemies like that, who needs friends?

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