Zebra plots China-set Jesuit drama

Antena 3 backs 'Ricci'

MADRID — Antonio Saura’s Zebra Producciones has inked with broadcaster Antena 3 to produce the China-set “El manuscrito Ricci” (The Ricci Manuscript), a movie budgeted at north of $13.4 million and set to shoot in China.

Pic’s screenplay is being written by director-scribe Joan Potau, Curro Royo (“The Suicides’ Club”) and Carlos Martin (“Swindled”).

A fictional historical adventure pic set in the 17th century, “Ricci” turns on two Jesuits dispatched to search for the Jesuit diplomat and translator Mateo Ricci, who forged relations between the Jesuits and China.

Ricci’s manuscript, they discover, can warp the delicate balance of power between protestants and catholics in Europe.

The Spanish-language “Ricci” will be set up as a co-production between Ensueno Films, the production arm of broadcaster Antena 3, Zebra, European co-producers — most probably including one from Italy — and a Chinese co-producer, Saura told Daily Variety.

Saura will continue conversations about studios and locations in China during this month’s Shanghai Film Festival, which will screen in competition the Zebra’s produced literary farce “Miguel and William.”

This is just the latest in a lengthening line of historical pics produced by Ensueno, led by “Independencia!,” set against Napoleon’s siege of Zaragoza.

“My take is that either you go high-end in terms of national budgets or low-budget, creative films. What I want to avoid is the middle-ground,” said Saura.

One example of a low-budget Zebra production, Jose Luis Lopez Linares’ docupic “The Chicken, Fish and The King Crab,” about the Bocuse d’Or cuisine contest, screened to an upbeat reaction as a work-in-progress in the Berlin Fest’s Eat, Drink, See Movies section.

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