UKFC mounts Radford’s ‘Mula’

Body invests in Spanish-language film

MADRID — The U.K. Film Council is to invest £1.12 million ($1.8 million) in Michael Radford’s Spanish-language debut “La Mula,” as part of its continued commitment to backing European co-productions, including foreign-language pics.

Budgeted at Euros 7 million ($9.3 million), “Mula” is produced by Alejandra Frade and Bruce St. Clair’s Gheko Films in Madrid. Malaga’s Gheko Films Sur also co-produces. The UKFC has pledged £1.09 million ($1.74 million) from its Premiere Fund and a further $47,300 via the Development Fund.

It’s not the first time the UKFC has invested in foreign-language pics. It previously put coin into Spanish-language film “Seres Queridos” (Only Human) and two French-language pics, “Innocence” and “L’homme du train.”

A UKFC rep said the primary reason for the investment in “Mula” was as a means of supporting international relationship building and because of the strength of the project, rather than an urge to invest in foreign-language pics.

Dublin production house Subotica Ent., Germany’s Integral Film, Radford’s own London-based label, Workhorse Ent., and the Irish Film Board will also put coin into the pic.

Post-production will be carried out in Dublin.

Maria Valverde (“King of the Hill,” “Melissa P”) will play the femme lede. Male lead will be announced shortly.

A Spanish Civil War comedy, “Mula” will go before the camera Aug. 31, shooting in Andalusia.

For a director who’s always tried to extend the borders of British filmmaking, shooting films in Italian (“Il Postino,” one of the highest-grossing foreign films ever), and lensing in Kenya, Scotland and L.A. strip clubs, it’s none too surprising that Radford, who speaks fluent Spanish, will shoot in that language. Nor that the film gives a redolently Spanish take on the Civil War.

“This isn’t about the International Brigades. It’s a comedy much more in the style of early Milos Forman comedies or Luis Berlanga’s ‘Welcome Mr. Marshall,'” said Radford.

Many — perhaps most Spaniards — were forced to fight for Franco’s rebels or the Republican government, depending on which part of Spain they lived in.

Set in the last three months of the war, “Mula” turns on a muleteer on the Andalusian front, dragooned into the Francoist Falange, who discovers a mule on the battlefield and hides it among his company’s other mules, angling to take it back to his village when the conflict ends.

“‘La Mula’ is a naturalist, human comedy about soldiers trying to survive,” Radford said from Spain, where he’ll present the comedy at Madrid’s Spanish Film Screenings Monday.

Sally Caplan, head of the Premiere Fund, said: “’La Mula’ is just the kind of story that Michael Radford handles so well. It is very poignant, carries an important message and is delivered with a good dose of humor.”

Pic drew down one of the biggest co-production loans in a Eurimages’ 2008 awards round, winning $865,000.

Pic has been pre-bought by Spanish pubcaster TVE and Andalusia’s Canal Sur.

“Mula” is the first feature production of Gheko Films, which has been battling to fully finance the film since 2006.

“It took the obstinacy of a mule to put this together,” Frade joked.

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