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Auds seek out art, edge in Spain

Moviegoers drawn to name directors, prestige and festival presence

MADRID — Arthouse met the multiplex with healthy results at the 2011 Spanish box office. Spain’s list of top 10 grossing films includes auteurs — Woody Allen, Pedro Almodovar — an accessible art film, Iciar Bollain’s “Even the Rain,” and mainstream films exploring topics normally ruminated upon in arthouse fare, such as Enrique Urbizu’s “No Rest for the Wicked,” a socially barbed police thriller; and Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s “Intruders,” a horror film starring Clive Owen that explores childhood trauma.

“Spanish audiences are tiring of classic blockbusters and seeking out titles that combine the guarantee of a name director, critical prestige and festival presence,” says Pau Brunet, at Boxoffice.es.

These films target 30- 50-year-olds who still have disposable income, are often film buffs and like cinemagoing, he adds.

Art films with audience appeal — “Drive,” “The Artist” “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” — have been performing well across Europe.

Spain’s foreign language Oscar hopeful, “Black Bread,” feeds into the mainstream-arthouse trend.

A dark rites-of-passage thriller set in post Civil War Catalonia, it has grossed $3.5 million, won nine Spanish Academy Goyas, a National Cinema Prize for director Agusti Villaronga, and has sold 150,000 DVDs — more through November than any Hollywood blockbuster, says Juan Carlos Tous at distributor Cameo.

The $5.5 million pic was a bet on a film that was accessible to all audiences, says producer Isona Passola.

Villaronga once made grim, if admired, films about Nazi child torture (“In a Glass Cage”), tuberculosis (“The Sea”) and a serial killer (“Aro Tolbukhin”). His move toward more mainstream fare with “Bread” underscores the direction much of Europe’s best and most profitable cinema is taking.

Indeed, auteurs like Villaronga, Bollain and Fresnadilla are making a virtue out of a growing necessity.

“In Spain, DVD has collapsed, pay TV sales are a question mark, and free-to-air coin is down, so local movies have to make money off theatrical and international sales,” says Telecinco Cinema CEO Ghislain Barrois.

Spain’s highest-profile movies of 2012 seem to be continuing the trend toward edgy accessibility — Rodrigo Cortes’ Sundance preem “Red Lights,” with Robert De Niro and Sigourney Weaver; Juan Antonio Bayona’s “The Impossible,” starring Naomi Watts; Alex de la Iglesia’s “If Luck Would Have It,” with Salma Hayek — see directors bringing a personal stamp to star-laden material.

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