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Homegrown fare outshining vaunted imports.

ROME

Italy's indie distributors will be treading cautiously in Cannes, despite a 22% year-on-year rise in local box office in the first quarter of 2007.

That's because commercial local romancers, such as smash hit "Love Manual 2," are driving the market, giving local pics a boffo 40% share, while arty imports have been flopping.

Even "Babel," for all its Oscar cachet, drew a mere $3.5 million. "The Queen" and "Children of Men" underperformed, as did last year's Palme d'Or winner "The Wind That Shakes the Barley." For niche fare like "Black Book" and an "An Inconvenient Truth," it's been a downright bloodbath.

"Our plan is less movies and bigger movies," says Alessandro Usai, recently installed topper of indie Mikado.

The boutique distrib is emblematic of the current state of affairs. It had been bought by publisher De Agostini last year from founders Roberto Cicutto and Luigi Musini, whose determinedly auterish inclinations had driven it deep into debt.

"Festival titles that a few years ago played well in theaters and then landed a TV sale have now become a total rarity," Usai notes.

Italians seem to have taken a more mainstream turn even in the homevid arena, where quality pics once used to be able to compensate, at least in part, for a lackluster theatrical run.

"Compare any genre movie--action, romance, noir, horror--and you'll see it generally does better on DVD here than an auteur film," says a disgruntled Italo arthouse distrib.

The country's current craze for local pics is expected to impact TV sales, with buyers favoring homegrown product in both the free and pay arenas.

BOX OFFICE OVERVIEW

TOP FILM 2006:

"The Da Vinci Code": $38 million

Total B.O.: $670 million

Total number of releases: 300

RECENT PICKUPS

"The Golden Compass" (RAI Cinema)

"What Just Happened?" (Medusa)

"La Vie en rose" (Mikado)

"When Father Was Away on Business" (Lucky Red)

"Moliere" (BIM)

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Title Annotation:ITALY; Cannes Film Festival
Author:Vivarelli, Nick
Publication:Variety
Article Type:Brief article
Geographic Code:4EUFR
Date:May 14, 2007
Words:315
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