Miramax, Tornatore partner on Italo film

Bellucci is duo's 'Malena'

VENICE — Miramax Films and Rome-based distributor Medusa Films have pacted with Giuseppe Tornatore (“Cinema Paradiso”) to direct an Italian-language period film “Malena,” starring Monica Bellucci.

Miramax co-chairman Harvey Weinstein will make his sophomore outing as a producer, taking oversight duties with Mario Cottone, who produced “Cinema Paradiso.” (Weinstein previously took producer credit on last year’s Academy Award winner “Shakespeare in Love.”)

The filmmakers estimate “Malena” will cost between $15 million and $20 million. Miramax, which is covering a majority of the budget, will have worldwide rights, excluding Italy, which will be handled by Medusa.

Pic is slated to begin production in Sicily this month.

In addition to the “Malena” announcement, Weinstein told Daily Variety that, in the wake of Miramax’s co-production pact with MGM, he has been scouring the latter’s archives and is particularly keen on a script, “Topkapi” (filmed in 1964, based on Eric Ambler’s novel “The Light of Day”).

Weinstein — who said he made the production-distribution pact with MGM for purely archival reasons — added that the screenplay is in such good shape it would need “only to be polished up” before being put together.

Vincenzoni inspiration

As for “Malena,” Tornatore will direct from his own screenplay, inspired by “Ma L’amore No …” a novel by Italian “script doctor” Luciano Vincenzoni (“The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”).

“Malena” was announced at a press conference Thursday during the Venice Intl. Film Festival. Weinstein, Tornatore and Bellucci were in attendance and were joined by Medusa president Carlo Bernasconi.

The film takes place around World War II in Italy. While the filmmakers were keeping details of the story close to their vest, it’s understood that it’s the story of a woman, as seen through the eyes of a young boy. The danger, mayhem and political upheaval dramatically alter her, causing her to age what seems like 20 years during the war.

Weinstein, who distributed Tornatore’s “Cinema Paradiso,” said he was first drawn to a treatment by the writer-director, a synopsis the Miramax topper found to be “beautiful, clean and stark, and classical in the Italian tradition.”

During the press conference, the producers and filmmakers stressed the importance of supporting Italian-lingo films.

Backing Italo fare

“Producing an Italian movie is a dream for me,” Weinstein said. “I hope that this is a breakthrough and that this is a renaissance, the beginning of a renaissance. It starts with one step and hopefully others will come and Italian companies will grow and this will be an ongoing spirit of cooperation. Because if we lose Italian cinema and it’s all American cinema, then we will be poor and bankrupt.”

While Tornatore has turned in a 90-page script, allaying initial fears over an overly long screenplay, the helmer mentioned that as part of his deal, he will have control over the final cut of the film. The helmer has been in a protracted dispute with Fine Line Features over the final cut of his “The Legend of 1900” (La Legenda del pianista sull’oceano).

While a two-hour, 45-minute version, which also was produced by Medusa, was released to positive reviews in Italy in the fall, Fine Line and New Line Intl. said Tornatore was contractually obligated to turn in a two-hour film. The director, who claimed he had final cut, balked at making the edits and has said the cuts still are being hammered out.

‘Texas’-size tab

Weinstein also confirmed to Daily Variety that Miramax has undergone some reshoots for “Happy, Texas,” a Mark Illsley comedy that Miramax acquired during Sundance for a sum the mini-major claimed was $2.5 million, but competitors and representatives maintain is more in the $10 million neighborhood. He said that despite the retooling, which emphasizes the relationship between two characters, the pic is on course for its October release.

At the Venice fest, Miramax is supporting three films: Lasse Hallstrom’s “Cider House Rules,” Wes Craven’s “Music of the Heart” and Jane Campion’s “Holy Smoke.”

In addition to putting together “Malena,” Weinstein has been in negotiations to pick up worldwide rights to “In the Cut,” a sexual thriller to star Nicole Kidman under Campion’s direction. While a deal has not been finalized, Miramax appears to have a firm hold on the project, which is slated to go before the cameras in New York in fall 2000.