'Mala' to star Argentine actress Natalia Oreiro

Prominent Argentina-based auteur Adrian Caetano (“Buenos Aires, 1977,” “Francia”) is prepping “Mala,” a hitwoman thriller.

Natalia Oreiro (“An Argentinian in New York,” “Cleopatra”) is attached to limn the lead, Rosario, a femme assassin with her own agenda.

In pre-production, and budgeted at $3 million-$3.5 million — three times the Argentine average — the Spanish-language “Mala” is set up at La Expresion del Deseo, Caetano’s production label with producer partner Gustavo Funes. Caetano and Funes will produce.

Caetano has completed a first-draft screenplay, and will look to put final touches to the script over Argentina’s summer holidays this Christmas.

“Mala” will be — in Caetano’s words — “a highly melodramatic and very bloody erotic thriller,” which harks back in style to Caetano’s “Red Bear.” Pic turns on a young woman who’s abandoned in adolescence by her b.f. and begins to kill — to order — men who exploit or abuse women — pimps and wife beaters.

“Rosario is a kind of Robin Hood for abused women,” said Oreiro.

“Mala” acquires a road movie element when Rosario goes on the run to escape from a cop who’s attempting to blackmail her, she added.

To shoot in several Argentine provinces, “Mala” is skedded to roll fall 2010.

The thriller marks yet another career turn for Caetano, one of Argentina’s most versatile directors.

“I like to range from film to film: If not, I get bored,” Caetano told Daily Variety. He segued from Cannes competish contender “Buenos Aires 1977,” a jailbreak thriller with a political underbelly, to the more personal “Francia,” a chronicle of a dysfunctional couple seen through the rose-tinted glasses and pop culture sensibilities of their young daughter.

“Francia,” which screens Sunday at Ventana Sur, won the special jury award at the recent Huelva Ibero-American Festival, having taken a special mention in September at San Sebastian’s Latinos Horizontes competish.

“Mala” also continues Caetano’s creative relationship with Oreiro, who played the mother in “Francia” and is advising on “Mala’s” screenplay.

The next film for Oreiro — who is a Latin Grammy-nommed singer for record “Your Poison” — will be Martin Sastre’s pop comedy “Miss Tacuaembo,” about a 10-year-old girl dreaming of winning a talent contest when she grows up. Pic is produced by Uruguay’s Oriental Films and Spain’s Cool Shot Films.

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