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‘Shrek’ treks to Germany, Spain

'Thirteen' arrives in France

LONDON — A lull in the summer storm of franchise releases presents counterprogramming opportunities at the European box office this weekend.

In notable tentpole expansions, “Shrek the Third” looks to gobble up more greenbacks when it expands into Germany and Spain and “Ocean’s Thirteen” arrives in France.

There are no big contenders opening this weekend at the U.K. B.O., where a trio of Yank franchise pics – “At World’s End,” “Silver Surfer” and “Thirteen” – look set to continue to boss biz.

Gallic Edith Piaf biopic “La Vie en Rose” enters the fray in the U.K. and could prove a solid counterprogramming hit for indie distrib Icon. Olivier Dahan’s pic, which stars Marion Cotillard as the tortured Parisian songbird proved a big draw on home turf in Gaul and is buoyed by warmish reviews from the Brit crix.

“The details of the composition, the fluidity of the camera’s movement and the magical elision between personal grief and performed grief are so confidently organized that one detects the shadow of a much subtler film. I wish that we could have seen it,” wrote Anthony Quinn in the Independent broadsheet.

“La Vie en Rose” goes out on 58 this weekend rising to at least 65 on Monday according to an Icon spokesperson.

Hollywood tentpole releases are on hiatus this weekend in Italy, where the biggest opener is gritty horror pic “Hostel: Part II,” out on 252 via Sony.

While exhibs see it as a money-maker, the “Hostel” sequel is not expected to oust “Silver Surfer” – in its soph sesh – from the top spot.

Italo frame’s other prominent opener is Spanish epic “Alatriste,” toplining Viggo Mortensen, playing on 220 via Medusa amid low expectations.

Warner Bros. is outing two titles, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles pic “TMNT,” on 175, and Curtis Hanson’s “Lucky You,” toplining Eric Bana and Drew Barrymore, on 110.

Odds aren’t high on Hanson’s poker and romance pic, which La Repubblica predicts will “only excite poker experts.”

On the Euro front, Gallic laffer “Priceless,” toplining Audrey Tautou, has better prospects, out on 106 via Eagle Pictures. Italos generally go for Gallic laffers.

La Repubblica compared “Priceless,” in which Tautou plays a gold-digger who mistakes a shy young bartender for a millionaire, to the “Hollywood comedies of the Golden Age.”

Main arthouse outing in Italy is Cannes Critic’s Week winner “XXY.” The hermaphrodite drama by Argentine helmer Lucia Puenzo goes out on 19 via Teodora Film.

In Germany, opener “Shrek” is expected to topple “At World’s End” from top spot – a position the swashbuckler has held for four frames.

“Shrek 2” raked in some $9.8 million in its first weekend in July 2004 and went on to gross $37.6 million at the German box office.

And local bookers are predicting more big green from the latest installment in the well-loved animated franchise.

While summery weather usually slows the German box office, the possibility of summer showers this weekend could help beef up the “Shrek” debut.

“Regardless of the weather, parents will have no choice but to take their kids to see ‘Shrek,'” one local exhib noted.

The green ogre faces little in the way of mainstream competition from fellow Teuton openers.

Montxo Armendariz’s Spanish-German co-production “Obaba,” about a young filmmaker who finds herself in a mythical region in northern Spain, has received strong reviews and looks likely to do well among arthouse auds.

“The sensitive and melancholic folkloric work does not fit into any genre slot. Instead, it offers serene arthouse cinema draped in dark colors, consistently rejecting any spectacle,” wrote local trade magazine Blickpunkt: Film. “Obaba” hits theaters via Zorro.

Another Spanish film, Daniel Sanchez Arevalo’s award-winning urban drama “DarkBlueAlmostBlack,” may also benefit from Spanish cinema’s growing popularity in Germany; pic goes out via Arsenal.

Also opening is BVI’s croc thriller “Primeval,” starring Dominic Purcell and Teutonic thesp Juergen Prochnow.

In Spain, all eyes are on “Shrek” this weekend and whether the pic can break the opening weekend record set by “At World’s End.”

Hopes are high that the family favorite, which Universal sends out on 684 locations, can best “At World’s End” due to the manageable running time.

“About half the cinemas in Spain only managed two runs of ‘At World’s End’ in a day. With ‘Shrek,’ we’ll get three,” one upbeat local exhibitor pointed out.

But the “Shrek” cause is not helped by the some unkind reviews. “‘Shrek the Third’ underscores the weaknesses of a franchise that, in the final analysis, has always been governed more by marketing strategists, CGI techies and script doctors, not animators,” said newspaper El Pais.

“Shrek” faces some competition from a local B.O. hope – Jaime Marques Olarreaga’s “Thieves” – which WB put out on 160. The delinquency romancer toplines teen heartthrob Juan Jose Ballesta (“7 Virgins”), reckoned by some to be the only actor in Spain, apart from Javier Bardem, who can open a film in Spain.

“Thieves” arrives just a week after Felix Viscarret’s local offering “Under the Stars” did solid biz from a limited release in its bow. Previously, a string of local pics had failed to hit paydirt on home turf.

In France, “Thirteen” bowed brightly on its first day (Wednesday), taking $825,000 at 755. Although the result was down on “Eleven” and “Twelve,” bookers are satisfied with the opening as this time of year is traditionally a slow period for openers. Reviews were largely mixed for the star-studded crime caper. “Lost in routine and needlessly repetitive,” quipped Ouest France. “The same spectacular, crafty game, making the viewer an informed accomplice,” trumpeted Telerama.

Additional reporting by Nick Vivarelli (Italy), David Hayhurst (France), Ed Meza (Germany) and John Hopewell & Emilio Mayorga (both Spain)

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