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SAN SEBASTIAN – Framing a high-profile arthouse production with crossover potential, Luisa Matienzo’s Barcelona-based Tusitala will team with Monica Lozano’s Alebrije Cine y Video in Mexico City to produce Spanish helmer Agusti Villaronga’s Cuba-set deeply erotic drama “The King of Havana.”

Spanish production-distribution-sales house Filmax has acquired both Spanish and world sales rights.

Based on the same-titled novel by Cuba’s Pedro Juan Gutierrez, sometimes dubbed its Henry Miller after his Dirty Havana Trilogy, “King” is set in 1990s Havana, a city punished by shortages after the collapse of Soviet support for the Island.

It turns on Reinaldo, a teenage who escapes a correctional facility begins to hustle for money on Havana and falls in love with Magda. Their relationship is driven by a boundless passion and challenged by the difficulty of living a normal life on Havana’s mean streets, which are ravaged by a tropical storm.

“King” is set to go into production spring 2014, lensing in Havana. It looks like being one of the highest-profile Latin American co-production projects at this year’s San Sebastian Festival, where Matienzo will present the project.

“King” marks a partnership between two of the most active distaff producers in the Spanish-speaking world.

Of most recent ventures, Matienzo produced Isaki Lacuesta’s 2011 San Sebastian Golden Seashell winner, “The Double Steps.” Lozano produced Eugenio Derbez’s “Instructions Not Included,” a semi Spanish-language hapless father dramedy that has broken out to an eye-catching $27.3 million in the U.S., distribbed by Lionsgate Films/Pantelion.

A change of register for Villaronga – “King” is described by Filmax as a raunchy, gritty and tragicomic account of Reinaldo’s life – “King” also reps his feature follow-up to Spanish sleeper “Black Bread” which was a move towards the mainstream for Villaronga, best-know before then for left-of-field movies such as “Aro Tolbukhin – In the Mind of a Killer” and “In a Glass Cage.”  “Bread” grossed Euros2.7 million ($3.6 million) at the local box office and scooped nine Goya Spanish Academy awards. Including film, director and adapted screenplay.

“Agusti Villaronga is one of the most interesting of directors working in Spain today,” said Filmax sales head Ivan Diaz.

“We try to work with name directors, which is what distributors are looking for, collaborated with Tusitala on ‘Tapas,’ and have seen success with other intelligent quality erotic dramas,” he added.

Best-known for producing the “REC” scare fare franchise,  Filmax ‘s production credits also include Christian Bale starrer “The Machinist” and “Transsiberian, with Woody Harrelson, Emily Mortimer and Sir Ben Kingsley, both helmed by Brad Anderson, plus Jaume Balaguero’s “Fragile,” with Calista Flockhart, and “Darkness,” with Anna Paquin, also helmed by Balaguero.

Emilio Mayorga contributed to this report