Sorrentino pic causes stir with rival exhibs

Italo helmer Paolo Sorrentino’s loan-shark pic “The Family Friend,” which unspools here today in competition, has sparked a spat in Italy, peeving exhibitors and pitting rival local powerhouses Medusa and RAI Cinema.

Exhibs, hurting for summer pics, are angered that Medusa will not release “Friend” in Italy until the fall when screens will be crammed with Hollywood tentpoles “Miami Vice,” “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” and “Superman Returns.”

Italy is the only European country that won’t get the blockbusters day-and-date with the U.S. as distribs traditionally avoid the summer, when ticket sales can plunge as much as 50%.

Sorrentino says “Friend’s” delayed bow is inevitable because he’s been racing against the clock to complete the pic in time for Cannes.

But the helmer’s explanation is not playing well with exhibs. They claim the only way to counter the summer exodus is to entice moviegoers by offering more high-profile pics when temperatures start to soar.

“This is such a wasted opportunity for Italian cinema,” lashed out Paolo Protti, topper of Italo exhib body ANEC.

“Friend” is produced by Domenico Procacci’s Fandango with financing from Medusa.

Pic, about a wealthy but ugly 70-year-old money-lender, is expected to be Sorrentino’s most mainstream pic to date.

The helmer’s previous work, unconventional Mafia pic “The Consequences of Love,” was released before its Cannes bow in 2004 to lackluster returns.

Meanwhile, RAI Cinema — which is releasing eight titles this summer — has also stepped into the fray claiming it chose not to submit Emanuele Crialese’s “Respiro” followup “The Golden Door” for the Croisette competition as the helmer was scrambling to complete that pic, and would not have been able to promote it for a release right after the fest.

“It makes no sense for a film to go to Cannes and then not be released right afterwards. Italian cinema cannot be crushed between October and March,” lamented Luigi Lonigro, head of RAI Cinema’s O1 distribution arm.

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