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In Italy the mob and movies are getting caught up in a loop, with life imitating art imitating life.

Police are sweating over a report in last week’s La Repubblica that the Neapolitan mafia has set Christmas as its “deadline” by which to kill journo Roberto Saviano, author of “Gomorrah” the best-selling mafia expose adapted by helmer Matteo Garrone into the hit pic that is Italy’s foreign-language Oscar contender.

And just as Garrone’s gritty film is being hailed as the most realistic Mafia movie ever made, “Gomorrah” cast member Bernardo Terraccianowas arrested earlier this month on extortion charges and suspicion of belonging to a mob clan. He’s the third non-pro “Gomorrah” thesp to end up behind bars on mob-related charges.

“Gomorrah” is Italy’s top local drama of 2008 to date, with $14 million in grosses. The naturalistic pic, which has also been playing well in Gaul and Blighty, bowed Stateside at the New York Film Festival earlier this month to molto buzz. IFC will release it in the U.S. likely in early 2009.

Journalist Saviano has been living under police protection for the past two years during which his book, now translated into 42 languages, sold a massive 1.2 million copies in Italy. He is now a symbol of the country’s weary war on organized crime. Last week Saviano said he plans to leave Italy due to the latest death threats.