Medusa pic hits with local auds as it gets ready to travel

Rome– Hicks in the sticks of the world unite.

Italian auds are flocking to “Benvenuti al Sud,” an Italo remake of “Welcome to the Sticks,” two years after the Gallic megahit about a postal worker banished from balmy Southern France to the rainy North became a European box office phenom.

And it looks like “Benvenuti,” which, in a curious twist, was set up as an Italy-Germany co-production, is also getting ready to travel. Gaul’s Pathe has already slotted the Italo redo for release on French screens Nov. 24. And while it’s an unusual situation for a remake of a hit to get wide distribution across Europe, the pic also has been sold to a slew of territories, including Spain, Germany and Russia.

“Benvenuti,” which reverses the original’s geographic conditions in adapting them to a local context — the Italian version offers up a post office manager from prosperous northern Italy sent to the country’s underdeveloped South — opened at numero uno on Oct. 1, pulling $5.2 million from 532 in its first frame, for a stellar $9,766 per-screen average, on a par with the country’s lucrative Christmas comedies. It ousted “Inception,” which was in its sophomore frame in Italy, from the top Italo slot.

The pic’s release could not have been more timely.

Days before its debut, Umberto Bossi, leader of the separatist Northern League, blurted out an anti-South rant, calling Romans “pigs” — and giving the film as much free publicity as any movie marketing wizard could have prayed for. It prompted one of its producers, Riccardo Tozzi, to hail “Benvenuti” as a “film of national unity,” noting that it has played equally well throughout the country.

“Benvenuti,” which features a cameo by original “Sticks” helmer-star Dany Boon, is the brainchild of Medusa topper Giampaolo Letta, who insisted on remake rights when he purchased Italian distribution rights for the original “Welcome to the Sticks” from Pathe.

Helmer Luca Miniero (“Incantesimo Napoletano”) and scribe Massimo Gaudioso (“Gomorrah”) — Neapolitan natives — were entrusted with the task of “making the typically French story of the original prototype as Italian as possible, while keeping the same structure,” as Miniero puts it.

Produced by Medusa in collaboration with Tozzi’s Cattleya shingle, the $6.5 million “Benvenuti” is being hailed by Letta as a “an ideal model of combined financing resources, on which we’ve been working for years.”

Medusa brought Teutonic giant Constantin Film with its execs, Martin Moszkowicz and Oliver Berben, onboard as co-producers, and tapped into Italy’s new tax breaks, as well as coin from the Campania region’s film commission.

Campania, the Southern region where “Benvenuti” is set, or more specifically the Cilento coastal area below Naples, plays a big part in the pic, with its pristine villages, but also with its own patois, just like the original’s distinctive northern French lingo.

A key scene in the redo sees Boon playing a French tourist, flaunting his Nord-Pas-de-Calais patois and then, in a comic twist, becoming the only person able to comprehend the dialect spoken by a local customer in a Cilento village post office.

Will Smith’s Overbrook Entertainment and Warner Bros. picked up English-language remake rights in 2008.

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