In a rare move for both parties, Fine Line Features has optioned Umberto Eco's metaphysical thriller Foucault's Pendulum.

The move marks not only the first time in more than a decade that the renowned Italian author has granted film rights to his work, but an unusual step for Fine Line, which usually boards projects at later stages of development.

Fine Line president Mark Ordesky announced the deal; Ileen Maisel, Fine Line's London-based senior vice-president of European productions, will oversee the project.

The novel, Eco's second after The Name Of The Rose, is about three Milan-based editors who, drawing on hermetic thought, popular occultism and Grail trash, invent a world-wide plot. The game turns deadly when the participants begin disappearing. Translated into 39 languages, the book has sold 14 million copies.

"This is a historic deal that has been months in the making," declared Ordesky. "We are honoured that Umberto Eco has entrusted us with such a personal work. We look forward to a productive collaboration."

The deal was negotiated by Jamie Kershaw, vice president business affairs for Fine Line, and Guendalina Ponti of Loeb and Loeb in Rome. Mario Andreose of Bompiani Publishing negotiated on behalf of Eco.

The Name Of The Rose was adapted as a feature in a 1986 German, Italian and French production spearheaded by Constantin chief Bernd Eichinger. Directed by Jean-Jaques Annaud, it starred Sean Connery and Christian Slater.