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‘Spanish Affair’ Is No One-Night Stand at Box Office

Rare local-language hit in Spain draws on TV marketing and feel-good vibe

Spain, still reeling from the 2008 global economic crisis, sky-high unemployment rates for young people and Eurozone financial woes, finally has something to laugh about: Romantic comedy “Spanish Affair” (Ocho apellidos vascos) is taking the country by storm, and its success on the bigscreen owes much to the smallscreen.

Distributed by Universal Pictures Intl., the film has cumed more than $21 million since its March 14 bow (when it debuted to $3.9 million). But the pic has defied gravity at the box office, soaring 56% in its second weekend to $6.1 million, and rising 24% over its March 28-30 frame to $7.4 million — a third-frame feat that even blockbusters “Welcome to the Sticks” and “The Intouchables” couldn’t match in their home territory of France, or anywhere in Europe.

Hollywood media congloms such as Comcast, Disney and Viacom, regularly use their broadcast and cable assets to promote fare from the movie units, and now broadcast groups around the world have wised up to the practice.

Co-produced by Telecinco Cinema, the film production arm of TV group Mediaset Espana, “Spanish Affair” has benefited from advertising and promotion across the broadcast group’s eight TV channels, including the conglom’s news outlets, which have run frequent reports of the film’s success, as well as features tied to the laffer.

Helmed by vet Emilio Martinez Lazaro, and written by Diego San Jose and Borja Cobeaga (“Friend Zone”), “Affair” follows Rafa (Dani Rovira), a Seville boy who falls for Amaia (Clara Lago), a Basque. To win her, he travels to her chauvinistic village, pretending to be Basque. “It’s a fish-out-of-water movie, but the backbone is a romantic comedy,” says Telecinco Cinema CEO Ghislain Barrois.

“Affair” is the first domestic, Spanish-language hit since 2007’s “The Orphanage,” which grossed $37.7 million on its home turf.

Other countries are succeeding with the cross-promotional gambit as well. Media congloms such as Mexico’s Televisa, Brazil’s Globo and Italy’s Mediaset/Medusa have joined the parade. In Italy, the propulsive power of TV on box office grosses is clearly evidenced by recent hit laffer “Sole a catinelle,” produced by Silvio Berlusconi’s Mediaset/Medusa and toplining TV comic Checco Zalone, which pulled in more than $70 million in 2013, boosted both by Zalone’s TV popularity and by a promotional barrage on Berlusconi’s TV, print and other media outlets. Box office for the pic, which riffs on the country’s deep recession, is second only to “Avatar” in Italy.

But that doesn’t wholly explain the B.O. triumph of “Affair.” “To launch a film, you need great promotion, but for that promotion to work beyond the launch, you need a great film,” Barrois says. “The word-of-mouth is absurdly positive; there’s tremendous repeat business.”

Indeed, the movie is still selling out shows in Madrid. “In the last 17 years, I have never seen any No. 1 film — Spanish or foreign — perform like this in Spain,” says Rentrak’s Arturo Guillen.

Another reason for the pic’s success may be affordability. As Spain spends another year mired in fiscal crises, “Spanish Affair” offers auds not only a feel-good comedy, but one at bargain rates.

Per Rentrak’s Guillen, thanks to exhibitors’ price drops and the lack of big early-2014 3D titles, the cost of tickets has fallen 12% from €6.94 ($9.60) in 2013 to €6.10 ($8.40) in first-quarter 2014.

“When ticket prices go down, young people (who are prone to solitary bingeing on TV series on their mobile devices and tablets) may come back to theaters to share entertainment with friends,” says Pau Brunet at Boxoffice.es.

“Spanish Affair” may be the first movie to hint at the huge benefits of cheaper entertainment.

Nick Vivarelli contributed to this report.


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