Passion for Pedro

Sony Classics rounds up auteur's oeuvre

Sony Pictures Classics has acquired North American rights to Pedro Almodovar’s upcoming pic “Volver,” and also has quietly scooped up rights to three more of the Spanish auteur’s films to prep a 2006 eight-picture retrospective under the banner “Viva Pedro” that will be distribbed nationally in the U.S.

Retrospective of eight new prints — comprising the pics “Law of Desire,” “Matador,” “Women on the Verge,” “Flower of My Secret,” “Live Flesh,” “All About My Mother,” “Talk to Her” and “Bad Education” — will be a promotional run up to the roll out of “Volver,” which SPC co-toppers Michael Barker and Tom Bernard see as a comedy ripe for summer release in the States.

“Next year will be the year of Almodovar,” Barker said in Cannes. “This film is very commercial and we believe it can be a bonafide summer hit.” Added Bernard, “(Almodovar) is going back to comedy (with this film) in a very commercial way.”

“Volver,” budgeted at E9 million, stars Penelope Cruz and Carmen Maura. Producers describe the piece as a meeting of “Mildred Pierce,” “Arsenic and Old Lace” and Almodovar’s own fourth film, “What Have I Done to Deserve This?” Story concerns three generations of women surviving in Madrid and its lively working-class neighborhoods.

“Volver” lenses in Madrid and La Mancha from July 4 to Sept. 16. Pic is a production of El Deseo, with Agustin Almodovar serving as exec producer and Ester Garcia producing. “Volver” has also been sold to Pathe for France, U.K., Benelux and Switzerland.

SPC’s release of “All About My Mother” won the writer-helmer Almodovar a best foreign Oscar statuette, and the company’s “Talk to Her” took in the original screenplay Academy Award.

SPC has also released “Bad Education” and six Almodovar films overall, including the new “Volver.” Pics in the “Viva Pedro” showing will additionally be released ultimately as a box-set DVD collection. “Matador” and “Law of Desire” have never been available via DVD.

“We wanted to come up with something new and different,” Barker said of the retrospective and the “Volver” strategy. “There’s never been a subtitled film that’s been a real hit in the summer.” Added Bernard: “We keep trying to expand Pedro’s fan base and bring him into the mainstream.”

“As Pedro’s producer and the person who has been working the longest with him, having (SPC) distribute ‘Volver’ is a testament to their work on promoting and expanding Pedro’s films,” said Agustin Almodovar. “For Pedro this is more than distributing a film, this is a successful relationship with a very supportive and talented group of people.”

The move to pick up the foreign “Volver” adds to an already bold English-lingo ’05 SPC slate that includes Merchant Ivory’s upcoming “The White Countess,” Wim Wenders’ Cannes entry “Don’t Come Knocking,” Neil Jordan’s “Breakfast on Pluto” and the Keanu Reeves-starrer “Thumbsucker.”

Like “Volver,” SPC came into “Countess” and the Wenders pics at script stage.

Next year when the “Viva Pedro” project drops, SPC will also be celebrating its 15-year anniversary. Barker and Bernard will have been partners for 25 years, having started together at Orion Classics.