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LONDON — A trio of local openers arrive in time to perk up seasonal biz in Italy, while Luc Besson’s labor of love “Arthur and the Minimoys” lands in France and Mel Gibson’s “Apocalypto” prepares for battle in its first European engagements in Germany, Austria and Holland.

With “Casino Royale” and “Borat” not released in Italy until next year, winter business has been flat but Italian tradesters are optimistic that the debuts of a trio of homegrown holiday laffers will propel the box office to its second-straight weekend gain.

The Neri Parenti helmed “Christmas in New York,” starring popular comedian Christian De Sica, is ex-pected to come out on top ahead of “Ole” and “Sexy Comedy.”

De Sica, one of Italy’s most popular comic actors, usually draws big auds. Last year, his holiday film “Christmas in Miami” grossed $26 million in its first 20 days, making it one of Italy’s top films of the year. ” ‘Christmas in Miami’ did Euros 3 million ($4 million) in its opening weekend. This year, ‘Christmas in New York’ could easily match that,” one Milan-based exhibitor said. He added that the Carlo Vanzina helmed “Ole” and the Claudio Bagagli helmed “Sexy Comedy” could each surpass the Euros 2 million ($2.65 million) mark as well.

Mel Gibson’s “Apocalypto” gets its European bow in Germany, released by Constantin, and bookers are hope-ful it can replicate its strong Stateside launch. But the prohibitive certificate might prove a stumbling block. ” ‘Apocalypto’ has been getting a very strong buzz and great reviews, but its 18 rating limits it to adult moviegoers,” noted one exhib, adding that pic’s much publicized violence might turn off many squeamish moviegoers.

Maxximum’s Turkish sci-fi spoof “Duenyayi kurtaran adamin oglu” (Turks in Space) should do nice biz due to Germany’s large young Turkish population. Strong German debuts from Fox’s fantasy adventure “Eragon” and UIP’s romantic comedy “The Holiday” are also anticipated.

Besson’s long-awaited “Arthur and the Minimoys” got off to a fast start in France. Released by Besson’s EuropaCorp, the pic based on Besson’s eponymous children’s book sold 312,026 tickets at 965 in its first day in France Wednesday — the fifth best first-day opening figure this year.

Pierre Salvadori’s romantic comedy “Hors Prix” goes out on 422 through TFM and has generated strong buzz due to the presence of French faves Audrey Tautou and Gad Elmaleh.

As of Dec. 10, 2006 U.K. box of-fice takings were level-pegging with 2005. But this month will be hard pushed to match December 2005 biz, which was headed up by “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” and “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.”

For 2006 U.K. takings to match last year, bookers seek “safety in numbers,” hoping a phalanx of recent releases will deliver the results. This weekend sees Fox’s “Eragon” and BVI’s thriller “Deja Vu” added to the box office mix, which is bubbling nicely thanks to WB’s CGI pic “Happy Feet,” UIP’s “The Holiday” and Sony’s actioner “Casino Royale.”

Fox has spent big on promoting “Eragon” in the U.K. and bookers have relatively high hopes for the pic due to promising advance ticket sales. But reviews have been negative.

“Apart from wasting an able cast with a screenplay you and I might well have bettered, and bombarding us with only moderately useful special effects, the film pursues its way with a plodding determination that reminds one of the worst of the ‘Star Wars’ movies. I haven’t read the book but it surely must have been better than this,” said Derek Malcolm in London’s Evening Standard.

Exhibs hope Tony Scott’s “Deja Vu” can attract some of the same auds who made UIP’s Denzel Washington-starrer “Inside Man” a box office hit when it was released in March. But reviews have been cruel: “Take away a couple of neatly staged action sequences and you’re left with a callously measured slab of U.S. jingoism that deals with the most horrific human tragedies in the most lunk-headed and insulting way possi-ble,” wrote David Jenkins in listings mag Time Out.

An opening frame of $2.5 million and final cume of $11.5 million is projected.

Indian actioner “Kabul Express,” about Indian news reporters in search of the Taliban, looks set to delight British Asian auds. The Afghanistan-set pic has been getting a solid push from distrib Yash Raj Films, including ads and reviews in mainstream newspapers and magazines.

The biggest Spanish bow is Filmax’s “Mia Sarah,” a romantic comedy about a girl who takes care of her agoraphobic brother after the death of their parents. Pic is released on 88 prints and bookers expect at least $100,000. “Mia Sarah” is directed by debut helmer Gustavo Ron and toplined by Veronica Sanchez and Daniel Guzman.

Spanish exhibs are also looking to “Eragon” to bring home the bacon this weekend. Fox sends the pic out on 497 prints and bookers expect an opening of at least $2.5 million.

Additional reporting by Bernhard Warner (Italy), Esther de Prado (Spain), Ed Meza (Germany) and Liza Klaussmann (France) .