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Italian Box Office Offers Mixed Message for Domestic Business

Though Italy’s box office for the first eight months of 2018 is down, Italian movies account for a quarter of grosses, up from 17% a year ago, a clear sign of local production vibrancy amid alarming theatrical erosion.

Outside the country, Italian cinema is steadily gaining more international traction after the four Oscar nominations (and one win) scored earlier this year by Luca Guadagnino’s “Call Me by Your Name,” followed by two Cannes competition prizewinners, Alice Rohrwacher’s “Happy as Lazzaro” and Matteo Garrone’s “Dogman,” and strong presences at the Venice and Toronto festivals.

The drop in Italian moviegoers amounts to a 7% drop so far this year. That follows a dramatic 12% box office plunge in 2017 and is forcing producers and distributors to come up with some innovative strategies.

Case in point is Oscar-winner Paolo Sorrentino’s Silvio Berlusconi-themed “Loro,” which was edited into a longer version divided into two installments, “Loro 1” and “Loro 2,” for the Italian market. Universal released each film within about two weeks of each other pulling a combined roughly $8 million, in line with Sorrentino’s customary take for a single feature film. Universal and Sorrentino’s producer Nicola Giuliano say they are satisfied with their experiment borne in part from Sorrentino’s desire to make a longer, more than three-hour, director’s cut of the pic besides the two-hour and 25 minutes international version that will world premiere in Toronto.

To put things in perspective, Garrone’s “Dogman” has grossed $2.9 million in Italian theaters since its May release via 01 Distribution, which is considered a good result.

Giuliano’s Indigo Films shingle has fared well with economic crisis comedy “Put Grandma in the Freezer,” a first feature by directorial duo Giancarlo Fontana and Giuseppe Stasi, which pulled $4 million earlier this year, also via 01. “Freezer” is seen as part of an ongoing renewal of Italian comedies, which are becoming more sophisticated, veering away from the tired crassness that had become the norm, especially during the Christmas period.

The year’s top Italian grosser to date is smart social comedy “Like a Cat on a Highway,” which became Italy’s top domestic draw during Christmas, pulling more than $11 million via new Italian theatrical distributor Vision Distribution, launched by paybox Sky Italia in tandem with five local production companies.

Other top 2018 homegrown draws include Gabriele Muccino’s Italian cinema comeback “There Is No Place Like Home,” a dramedy that revolves around a family gathered to celebrate a 50th wedding anniversary on island of Ischia; and Ferzan Ozpetek’s melodramatic thriller “Naples in Veils.”

“There is a wide variety of genres instead of just a box office driven by comedies, which used to be the case,” notes box office data analyst Robert Bernocchi.

Bernocchi recently underlined in his Cineguru blog that this year’s summer season at the Italian box office is the worst in over a decade due the country’s age-old structural problem, the low number of releases in the June-August period when Italians traditionally hit the beach en masse, though that is changing. Experts say the only way to remove this hurdle is to have more distributors take greater risks, which could initially mean taking a loss, but would build the summer moviegoing habit. So far the only ones who’ve really risen to the challenge are Universal and Warner Bros., which is not enough.

A clear example of this, albeit understandable, aversion to risk-taking that is stunting the local industry is the fact that Italian director Stefano Sollima’s high-octane thriller “Sicario: Day of the Soldado” will be going into Italian movie theaters in October, via 01, after playing this summer in most of the rest of the world. It’s paradoxical, given that “Soldado” is certainly this year’s biggest hit by an Italian helmer, an achievement the country can be proud of.

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