Helmer Kusturica to build $35 million ‘White Hotel’

Kidman, Olin, others in talks for female lead of surreal drama

VENICE — While his “Black Cat White Cat” has received acclaim at the Venice Film Festival and was acquired by October Films, Yugoslavian director Emir Kusturica is stepping up preparations for his English-language project “The White Hotel.”

Budgeted at around $35 million, the effects-laden film is being shepherded by N.Y.-based producers Robert Michael Geisler and John Roberdeau. The duo also is behind Terrence Malick’s war drama, “The Thin Red Line,” which is completing post.

Kusturica’s “Black Cat” was the only major acquisition in Venice, selling for about $300,000 for domestic rights (Daily Variety, Sept. 14). Pic is poised for its U.S. preem at the New York Film Festival Oct. 3.

Geisler and Roberdeau have been developing both “Thin Red Line” and “White Hotel” for the past decade. Based on the novel by D.M. Thomas, the latter project originated from a script by the late Dennis Potter, which is in the process of being refined by Kusturica and Dusan Kovacevic, who co-wrote Palme d’Or-winner “Underground” with the director.

The surreal drama, set mainly between the two world wars, centers on a young woman whose bouts of physical pain bring on feverish, hallucinatory dreams about a mysterious white hotel. These dreams contain a coded key — unlocked during analysis — to understanding both remembrances of her past and premonitions of her future.

Potter’s radical re-creation of the novel shifts the location from Vienna to Berlin and replaces Freud as the woman’s analyst with a young protege of the Viennese shrink, who becomes the lover in his patient’s fantasies.

“This is a perfect match of material and director, because Emir’s movies can be so earthy and real, but they also have such a surrealistic spirit,” Geisler told Daily Variety.

Actresses who have met with Kusturica to discuss the leading role in “The White Hotel” include Nicole Kidman, Juliette Binoche, Lena Olin, Irene Jacob, Catherine McCormack and Rachel Weisz.

The producers say work will continue on the script and on assembling key cast in the coming weeks before they begin looking for pre-sales financing later this year. Shooting is slated to start in mid-1999 on European locations, including the Italian Alps and Berlin, with the production likely to be based in Montenegro.

Cinematographer on the project will be Giuseppe Rotunno, while veteran Stanley Kubrick collaborator Ken Adam is attached as production designer. Effects supervisor will be Randy Balsmeyer.

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