Film unit offers hope to local producers

ROME Fox Intl. Productions is trusting real-life Italian bandit Renato Vallanzasca to generate gangbuster biz via its new Italo production outpost, called 21st Century Fox, the latest addition to its growing global local-language operations.

Helmed by Michele Placido, whose “Crime Novel” scored locally and also did well in Gaul, Fox’s gritty Italo gangster epic (working-titled “Flower of Evil”) is now wrapping a 12-week shoot, with the Venice Film Festival a likely launching pad in September. The studio hopes the gritty noir will cross borders as well as appealing to Italian auds.

Fox Intl. Productions prexy Sanford Panitch is intently focused on Italy these days, determined to grab a share of box office proceeds with local-language productions.

Local films are strong in Italy, with the Italo product commanding a hefty 33.5% recently to some hot homegrown releases.

Fox’s “Flower of Evil” turns on the tale of the handsome Vallanzasca, a lady’s man from a middle-class background who became a top Milan mobster in the 1970s. Vallanzasca’s numerous kidnappings, murders, and three successful jailbreaks make him a quasi-mythical Italian figure.

“We are talking about a criminal who everybody knows in Italy,” says Fox Italia topper Osvaldo De Santis. “So it’s a typical Italian story, but with broader appeal, because it’s also the story of a crazy visionary of sorts who would feed his kidnap victims restaurant food, given that he considered them his guests.”

Part of the pic’s potential transnational pull comes from casting Paz Vega as Vallanzasca’s wife, and hot German thesp Moritz Bleibtreu (“Soul Kitchen”) as a fellow gang member. Vallanzasca is played by well-known Italo thesp Kim Rossi Stewart. Stewart also collaborated on the script after spending time with Vallanzasca, who was recently granted work-release after 36 years behind bars.

De Santis said Vallanzasca “will not receive any compensation from the film,” adding that the pic does not “glorify a criminal,” an issue that has already raised some shackles in Italy.

Fox’s roughly $10 million Italo-language foray is being structured as a co-production with France’s Babe Films and Italo producer Elide Melli’s Cosmo Films, which originated the project. “Flower of Evil” will tap into Italy’s 20% tax credit and has also applied for $1.5 million in government subsidies.

“There is a new door for Italian producers to knock on,” says Fox’s De Santis, “And our only guideline is that they come to us with projects for good movies.”

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