Oscar hopefuls face local opposition in France, Italy

LONDON — U.S. imports “Blood Diamond” and “Dreamgirls,” both propelled by Oscar buzz, begin their assault on the European box office this weekend. In Gaul and Italy, the pair face tough opposition from local pics.

In Italy, Filmauro release “Manual of Love 2″ enters its soph sesh after a stellar opening run. The laffer scored the second biggest bow ever and has reeled in $11 million. This weekend it expands from 710 to 721 screens.

Warner Bros. is putting out “Blood Diamond” on just 280 prints, hamstrung slightly by mixed reviews. “African genocides and child soldiers don’t raise it above being an old-fashioned melodrama,” said La Repubblica.

Universal release “Dreamgirls” gingerly steps out with 178 copies. Historically, musical dramas haven’t been embraced by Italo auds.

Istituto Luce leads out Dominic Savage’s northern U.K.-set racial drama “Love+Hate” on 20 arthouse screens. Distrib also is releasing Italo docu “See Naples and Then Die,” by Enrico Caria, in Naples, Rome and Milan. Spanish-Argentine comedy “Elsa y Fred” is going out via Lady Film on 12.

Local fare continues to do solid biz in Gaul. Regis Wargnier’s cop thriller “Pars vite et reviens tard” took $373,102 on 495 for Gaumont Columbia TriStar on Wednesday, its first day. The pic, based on a bestselling tome by Fred Vargas and starring big names Jose Garcia and Michel Serrault, garnered mixed reviews. Catherine Corsini’s bittersweet romance “Les Ambitieux” opened on $103,950 on 226 for Pyramide.

Kate Winslet’s Academy Award actress nom for “Little Children” did not help boost the Gallic bow. Todd Field’s yuppie angstfest, released by Metropolitan Filmexport, scored a puny $56,103 at 137 on its opening day, Wednesday.

Fox’s “Blood Diamond” is the biggest release in the U.K. this weekend and bookers are upbeat about its prospects. “Even though political dramas often prove a tough sell, the film should do well,” said one. “Coming off the back of ‘The Departed,’ Leonardo DiCaprio is hot right now.”

The publicity generated by the Jan. 23 European premiere in London and the five Academy Award nominations has aided its prospects.

Reviews have been mixed. “A comparatively honest effort from Hollywood but one fatally weakened by the familiar scent of compromise in its final reels,” wrote Derek Malcolm in the Evening Standard.

BVI is giving Peter O’Toole-starrer “Venus” a wide U.K. release on some 200 prints. But exhibs are slightly concerned that the subject matter may offend its core gray aud. “It’s deeply sleazy, yet there’s something unexpectedly touching about the spooky and needy usury,” wrote James Christopher in the Times.

“Venus” posters have been up in London’s West End since before Christmas, demonstrating BVI’s belief in the pic.

Brit bookers are concerned that Bollywood epic “Salaam-E-Ishq” may struggle to do big biz on its opening weekend due to the 215 minute running time.

The Eros Intl. release stars three recognized names in Indian cinema but is confined to one evening show due to the length.

The only Academy Award contenders prominent in the U.K. charts now are Paramount’s “Babel” and Fox’s “The Last King of Scotland.” Neither is set for a major expansion this weekend. “Everything is working well at the moment and with Oscar movies “Dreamgirls” and “Notes on a Scandal” just around the corner, there is not that much room for maneuver,” said one London-based booker.

On the back of its six Oscar noms, Spanish-Mexican co-production “Pan’s Labyrinth” is getting an expansion in Spain this weekend from 19 prints to 62 despite the fact it has already been in theaters for 15 weeks.

“It’s hard to tell the nationality of many films these days. But to a certain extent, ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ snagging six Academy nominations is seen in part as a Spanish achievement,” said Pablo Nogueroles, topper of Warner Bros in Spain.

Although helmed by Mexican director Guillermo del Toro, “Labyrinth” was 80% financed and produced by Spanish broadcaster Telecinco, is set in Spain and has a Spanish cast.

Also set for an expansion in Spain is “Babel.” Paramount is boosting the number of screens by 15 from 190 to 205 as the pic enters its fifth weekend. The Brad Pitt-starrer has gone down a treat in Spain and boasts an $8.1 running cume.

Despite the eight Oscar noms pocketed by “Dreamgirls,” Spanish bookers are not particularly pumped up about the opening frame prospects for the pic, which Universal is releasing on 184. “Films with black actors don’t normally do very well in Spain,” said one local booker.

In Germany, openers “Blood Diamond” and Luc Besson’s “Arthur and the Invisibles” are both generating good buzz.

DiCaprio-starrer “The Departed” failed to click with German auds but hopes are high that “Blood Diamond” will do solid business thanks to its meaty subject matter. Likewise, a strong bow is expected from “Arthur.”

Boasting the Teutonic vocal talents of local teen pop superstar Bill Kaulitz of Tokyo Hotel and 1980s New Wave icon Nena in the local dubbed version, the kiddie pic is expected to easily surpass the $1 million mark.

Other, smaller, German releases debuting this weekend include Azur Film’s Italian comedy “Commediasexi” and RealFiction’s Swiss-German drama “Das Fraulein” from Swiss helmer Andrea Staka, about a gloomy middleaged woman who finds happiness after befriending a younger woman.

(Additional reporting by Gorka Bilbao (Spain), Ed Meza (Germany) and David Hayhurst (France).

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