Quo Vado Italian Comedy
Courtesy of Maurizio Raspante

As “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” conquers the world, European producers can take comfort in the fact that their local comedies have the firepower to strike back.

Hitting a cultural nerve with moviegoers, local laffers such as “Quo Vado?,” which spoofs government jobs in Italy; “Spanish Affair 2,” which handles ethnic tension with a light touch; and “Look Who’s Back,” which imagines Hitler starting out in today’s Germany, raked in coin regionally, despite the dominance of Hollywood films. The downside? These films rarely do well beyond their own borders, although digital streaming services and sales of remake rights may offer an ancillary boost.

“Quo Vado?,” starring comic actor Checco Zalone as a Southern Italian slacker determined to hold onto his government job even after being transferred to the North Pole, pulled in a supersonic $24 million in its release over the Jan. 1-3 weekend. By comparison, “The Force Awakens” earned $28 million in five weeks of release in Italy.

At $67 million in its third week, “Quo Vado?” — a play on the Latin question “Quo Vadis?” — is gunning to overtake “Avatar” ($71 million) as Italy’s all-time top grosser.

“ ‘Vado’ really (held up) a mirror to Italians,” says producer Pietro Valsecchi. “It’s the story of an average Italian — and Italians identify with his flaws; they laugh about themselves.”

Valsecchi is readying the release of another comedy with Everyman roots: “The Pills — Still Better Than Working,” about a group of young Italians who have vowed to each other never to take a job. It’s the debut feature of the Pills, a group of young YouTube comics.

“‘Vad’ really (held up) a mirror to Italians.”
Pietro Valsecchi, producer

In Spain, “Spanish Affair 2,” the sequel to the country’s all-time biggest homegrown hit, which hauled in more than $60 million in 2014, pokes fun at the nation’s deeply rooted regional divides. In the original, an Andalusian stud falls for a Basque babe who, in the sequel, becomes enamored with a Catalonian guy. Released in November by Universal, and produced by Lazona Films for Telecinco Cinema, the new film has pulled in $39 million, and is still charting on the country’s top 10 alongside “The Force Awakens,” which has scored $33 million so far.

Notably, Spain’s Film Factory Entertainment has made some international sales on the “Affair” titles.

New distribution platforms also are providing opportunities. Netflix will give a global launch to “Look Who’s Back,” based on the best-selling novel, in which Hitler wakes up in present-day Berlin, and becomes a TV personality. The picture earned more than $21 million in Germany last year, becoming the country’s second-highest-grossing home-grown hit.

The film is a sociopolitical satire, in which the laughs increasingly get caught in viewers’ throats. “I didn’t intend to do a pure comedy,” explains director David Wnendt.

Martin Moszkowicz, chairman of the movie’s distributor, Constantin Film, says audiences are in on the joke. “It’s an important movie, especially today when you have so many right-wing activists coming out in Germany,” he says.

Make ’em Laugh
Local comedies hold their own against Hollywood heavyweights
$67m Italian B.O. for the first 18 days of “Quo Vado?”
$71m Italian B.O. for all-time market leader “Avatar”
$38m Spanish B.O. for “Spanish Affair 2”
$33m Spanish B.O. for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”
$68m German B.O. for “Fack Ju Goehte 2”
$100m German B.O. for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”

Constantin also has made hay with “Fack ju Goehte” and its sequel, the biggest German-language franchise of all time. The two films have sold approximately 50 million tickets, pulling in around $150 million combined in German-speaking territories.

Conceived by Turkish-German writer-director Bora Dagtekin, the politically incorrect franchise revolves around a bank robber who becomes a substitute teacher to retrieve loot buried beneath a newly built high school; the students show him how to do his job. “It delivers a new twist on Germany’s old high-school genre,” says producer Lena Schoemann. And the setting is universal, she adds, “since everyone has gone to high school.”

A Spanish-language remake of “Fack ju” recently wrapped in Mexico, produced by Lionsgate-Televisa joint venture Pantelion. Constantin also recently inked an Italian remake deal for the pic with Cattleya, and more are in the making, Moszkowicz says.

Still, such crossover success requires an unusual admixture; to hit the jackpot, Euro laffers must first connect at home. Notes Moszkowicz, simply: “These movies are made for local markets.”

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