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Italo cinema flourishes at Cannes

Fandango banner behind three features at fest

ROME — With five features, two documentaries, three co-prods, two restored films and a short selected for Cannes, the Italian film industry is celebrating an unexpectedly robust national presence on the Croisette during a lean season for local production. But one independent producer in particular has something to sing about.

Domenico Procacci’s Fandango banner is behind three features chosen for sidebars at the French fest, an unprecedented achievement for an Italian independent production company. Fandango productions bowing in Cannes are Matteo Garrone’s tale of a tragic love triangle, “The Embalmer,” screening in the Directors Fortnight; Gotham-trained director Emanuele Crialese’s first Italian feature, “Respiro,” a drama set among the fishermen of Sicilian island Lampedusa, in the Critics Week; and popular rock star-turned-filmmaker Luciano Ligabue’s story of a bittersweet reunion weekend, “From Zero to Ten,” which closes the same section.

“This is a clear signal that the group of people who make up Fandango is working in the right direction,” Procacci says. “They tell me this is a first for an Italian company, which obviously represents an important personal achievement, but also an acknowledgement of the strength of Italian independent cinema in general.” Also standing to benefit from a Cannes slot is producer Rita Rusic, with Roberta Torre’s drama “Angela” in the Fortnight, about a Sicilian Mob wife. The selection reps the first sign of reversal of Rusic’s spotty track record since breaking away from ex-husband Vittorio Cecchi Gori and setting up her own banner.

The Cannes endorsement reflects Fandango’s rapid growth during the past year, following its massive success last spring with Gabriele Muccino’s “The Last Kiss,” which became the season’s top-grossing Italian title, taking $16.5 million at the national box office. “The results of ‘The Last Kiss’ served to help the company grow into one with a broader scope, an increased production volume and greater visibility,” Procacci says. “But it also gave us increased responsibility to continue to provide opportunities for new talents.”

The Rome-based production house fostered five Italian features and participated in three international co-productions in 2001, and looks to maintain that momentum this year. In addition, Fandango has expanded into exhibition, with the acquisition of a Rome arthouse; into publishing; and recently established Fandango Australia, with a view to expanding its already active production front Down Under. Fandango launched a distribution arm last year, which this season hits the market with its first complete lineup.

Upcoming releases include Cannes competition entry “Spider” by David Cronenberg, “Lantana,” “Ghost World,” “Samsara” and “The Last Resort.” Among the company’s current productions, shooting is under way on “Alexandra’s Project” by director Rolf de Heer for Fandango Australia, while cameras roll July in Rome on Muccino’s “Remember Me.” Fandango also recently completed work on Michelangelo Antonioni’s short film “Eros,” part of a trilogy with upcoming episodes from Pedro Almodovar and Wong Kar-wai.

Remaining Italian lineup selected for Cannes is headed by veteran Marco Bellocchio’s controversial drama “The Religion Hour,” about an atheist artist whose family has been secretly campaigning with the Vatican for the beatification of his murdered mother. Pic is Italy’s country’s sole Competition entry.

Two documentaries also will screen on the tragic riots during last summer’s G8 summit in Genoa, when one anti-globalization protester was killed by police and large numbers were injured. Francesca Comencini’s “Carlo Giuliani, Ragazzo,” will bow as a special screening, while Carlo Freccero, Marco Giusti and Roberto Torelli’s “Bella Ciao” shows in Critics Week. Latter title was shot for pubcaster RAI but deemed too controversial to air.

Italy also figures as a co-producer in Israeli competition regular Amos Gitai’s contender “Kedma,” Tajik director Djamshed Usmanov’s Un Certain Regard entry “The Angel of the Right Shoulder,” and Cuban Juan Carlos Cremeta’s debut “Nothing More” in the Directors Fortnight.

Rounding out the Italian presence, restored copies of Ermanno Olmi’s 1961 sophomore feature “Il Posto,” and Antonioni’s “Camille Without Camelias” will have retrospective screenings, while Francesco Amato’s short film “Figlio di Penna” shows in the Critics Week.