‘Lope’ marks Telefonica return

Spanish telco mulls how to invest in other Iberian offerings

Andrucha Waddington’s “Lope,” which screens out of competition Saturday, may mark a milestone for the Spanish film industry.

Spanish telco giant Telefonica put up 30% of its budget, its first investment in a Spanish movie since 2004 when it sold Lolafilms.

Angel Blasco, Telefonica head of content, describes the equity in “Lope” and a second film, “Bruc,” as trials. But as Telefonica studies how to comply with new obligatory investment quotas in the Spanish film industry, more Telefonica co-productions are likely to follow.

With Antena 3 Film and Warner Bros. as producing partners, “Lope” is the calling card of Jordi Gasull’s El Toro and Edmon Roch’s Ikiru, two young producers with an already large network of international connections. “Lope” is being sold by Wild Bunch; “Bruc” by StudioCanal.

“Lope” is also co-produced by Conspiracao Filmes in Brazil, a country full of production houses angling to up the ante on international co-productions.

A look at Spain’s Golden Age playwright Lope de Vega, pic is also a rare departure for Spanish cinema: A 16th century romantic romp.

The screenplay was written by Gasull and Ignacio del Moral in 1998 at the suggestion of Elias Querejeta.

Waddington, who garnered international attention with “House of Sand,” had tried for years to direct a movie on conquistador Hernan Cortes. “Lope” exercised a similar appeal.

“It gave an opportunity for a filmmaker to dive into an unknown universe and make it real,” Waddington told Variety.

“Lope” begins in 1588 with Lope (Alberto Ammann) leaving troops bound for the Armada to return to Madrid. There he dallies with the haughty daughter (Pilar Lopez de Ayala) of Velazquez, an unscrupulous theater empresario, and discovers his calling and true love (Leonor Watling). Pic is laced with swashbuckling action, courtesy of some loan shark thugs.

Romance notwithstanding, rarely has poor Madrid looked filthier.

Many period pieces are “fake and too theatrical,” said Waddington. “Also, they deal with nobles. The lower-classes used clothes for five, six and seven years.”

However poor, Madrid was, says Gasull, “the center of world entertainment.”

In the pic, Velazquez signs a five-play deal with Lope but refuses to produce his plays.

Waddington said, “It’s as if Lope had signed a five-picture deal. The 16th century theater isn’t that different from Hollywood studios today.”

Pic, released in Spain by Fox, bowed Sept. 3 and grossed ?714,097 ($916,591) from 309 prints, the second-best opening weekend of any Spanish film this year.

Warner Bros. has taken the whole of Latin America, a bet on a Spanish-film working across the whole region.