Bond and 'Borat' still to open

The Italian box office in 2006 was a tale of two seasons.

A strong first half lineup of local pics, including Fausto Brizzi’s “Night Before Finals” and Nanni Moretti’s “The Cayman,” propelled the Italian box office to a 15% year-on-year gain through the first nine months.

But then the inevitable caught up with the market in the second half.

Lackluster local films and a punishing release schedule (Italy is one of the few European markets to miss out on both “Borat” and “Casino Royale” in 2006), sent receipts plummeting in the traditionally strong autumn season.

“At the end of August, we were up significantly on last year. But in the last three months, we’ve lost everything. All for a lack of strong movies,” one distributor grumbled.

A strong December finish should be enough to salvage a slight year-on-year gain over a poor 2005, distributors said. But there’s little consolation in coming up even.

Through the wreckage, some promising trends are appearing though.

As a whole, local product under-performed, but Brizzi’s “Night Before Finals” and Carlo Verdone’s genera-tional comedy “My Best Enemy” succeeded in getting younger audiences back to the cinema, proving films with a crossover generational appeal can pull in big numbers.

“The Night Before Finals” netted $15.3 million, the seventh-best performing film of the year in the Italian market. And Moretti proved his best work may yet be to come. His political satire “The Cayman,” which went straight for Silvio Berlusconi’s jugular, generated $8.8 million locally, his best showing at the box office ever for the well-known filmmaker.

On a sour note, the Giuseppe Tornatore-helmed thriller “The Unknown” generated just $4.7 million, under-performing expectations, as did so many films in the unseasonably warm autumn season.

Among imports, Woody Allen’s thriller “Match Point,” which premiered in January, was Italy’s top European import (it was produced by BBC Films) with a gross of $12..2 million. Allen’s followup, “Scoop,” grossed $6 million in its first nine weeks through Dec. 10.

Pedro Almodovar’s “Volver” was the No. 2 ranked European import, grossing $6.4 million, proving big-name directors are still a hit with Italian audiences.

The carnage of 2006 could be easily forgotten with a strong start to the new year. “Casino Royale” is sched-uled to open in January and “Borat” a few weeks later.

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