De Laurentiis updates classic ‘Decameron’ with ‘OC’ flavor

Producer aims to prove pix for the int'l market can be made in Italy

A correction was made to this article on May 9, 2005

ROME — Sitting in a trailer by a medieval castle in the Roman countryside, Dino De Laurentiis puffs on a cigarillo and waxes proudly about British helmer David Leland’s “The Decameron,” the first of a trio of pics in the works that he and Martha De Laurentiis will be talking about at Cannes.

“I want to prove you can make movies for the international market in Italy,” says the veteran Italo producer who relocated to Hollywood from Rome in the 1970s, railing against the local industry’s insular constraints. Now he’s back to make a point.

“Everybody is expecting a small period film set in 14th century Florence. But they are in for a big surprise,” De Laurentiis exclaims. Boccaccio’s tale of a group of young Florentine aristobrats waiting out the 1348 plague in a country estate, where they pass time telling tasty tales, is being woven into a single narrative and removed from its historical frame largely by using colorful costumes — ranging from hippie chic to Victorian chaste — tailor-made by Florence native Roberto Cavalli. The fashion designer, in his first foray into film, is also co-producing, and has provided some fabulous tiger-print director’s chairs.

“It’s tasteful, but also very bawdy and humorous,” says helmer and screenwriter Leland, who helmed ’80s indie hit “Wish You Were Here” and an installment of “Band of Brothers.”

Stars Mischa Barton and Hayden Christensen — who is also Croisette-bound for the latest “Star Wars” installment — will jet into Cannes, where a slideshow and probably some rough footage of this youth-aimed “Decameron” adaptation will unspool. The largely British cast also includes Tim Roth, who plays a bad guy, and young actresses Kate Groombridge and Rosalind Halstead, plus funnyman Nigel Planer in a cameo as a nitwit named Uncle Bruno.

“With the British accents you can be irreverent and it doesn’t sound vulgar,” says Martha De Laurentiis.

The De Laurentiis husband and wife team is co-producing the $38 million pic with Nigel Green’s Entertainment Film Distributors and Tarak Ben Ammar’s Paris-based La Quinta. RAI Cinema has acquired TV and theatrical rights for Italy, with U.S. and other international rights to be sold when the pic’s finished at the end of the year.

The De Laurentiis duo is back in high productive gear, following the “Alexander” face-off, which — according to Dino — has not killed the Baz Lurhmann Roman conqueror project they were preparing.

“I met with Baz a couple of weeks ago, and he reiterated that it’s a shame the film had to be delayed,” says Dino De Laurentiis.

“We are going to make it once he is free,” Dino vows. Lurhmann recently announced an Aussie-set epic with Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman planned to shoot in 2006.

In August, cameras will start rolling in Tunisia on another Roman saga, “Last Legion,” a historical fantasy set at the twilight of the Roman empire. Pic will mark the feature film debut of U.S. telepic helmer Doug Lefler, who was Sam Raimi’s assistant director on “Spiderman.” RAI Cinema has acquired rights for Italy.

Shooting will start in October in Prague on “Behind the Mask,” the fourth “Hannibal” installment, and the first sans Anthony Hopkins. Helmed by Peter Webber (“Girl With a Pearl Earring”), the young Hannibal pic will star Gong Li as the Japanese Lady Kurasaki, who will be key in shaping the budding cannibalistic serial killer’s twisted psyche. Medusa has acquired rights for Italy from Ben Ammar, who is co-financing all three projects.