While the run-up to Christmas has once again been boosted by the releaseof blockbuster Italian comedies, only a handful of homegrown films have managedto gross more than Euros 1m - which is considered the benchmark for a strongrun at the box office - since September. Nevertheless, the local industry isconfident that box office results for local arthouse fare will see better timesin 2005, when Italy's handful of hit-making established auteurs are all set torelease new films.

The most hotly awaited new projects include Roberto Benigni's TheTiger And The Snow. The Euros 30m comedy, which has recently wrappedproduction in Tunisia and Rome, is set against the backdrop of the 2003 Iraqwar and focuses on the unrequited love between a poet (played by Benigni) and awoman who both find themselves in Iraq. Jean Reno, Nicoletta Braschi and EmiliaFox co-star.

Italy's former enfant terrible, Nanni Moretti, has also announced thatin April 2005 he will start shooting his first film in five years. The pictureis inspired by Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi, and its title, Il Caimano(The Caiman) is a reference to the fact that the left-leaning La Repubblicanewspaper has described conservative Berlusconi as a caiman, a South Americanalligator-like reptile.

Revered auteur Marco Bellocchio is currently also preparing his nextfilm, Il Regista Di Matrimoni, a drama about a troubled film directorwho travels to Sicily where he meets a friend who makes a living shootingvideos at weddings. Like his 2002 hit My Mother's Smile, Bellocchio'supcoming film will star Sergio Castellitto.

Italian hit-makers Ferzan Ozpetek and Gabriele Muccino are also liningup new pictures. Following the success of Facing Windows and IgnorantFairies, Turkish-Italian director Ozpetek is in post-production on CuoreSacro, a drama about the contrast between poverty and wealth in Naples. Thefilm, which Medusa is due to release in late February, stars Czech-born actressBarbora Bobulova who last won critical acclaim in The Spectator (LaSpettatrice).

As for Muccino, after focusing on the 30-something generation in hisblockbuster The Last Kiss and a dysfunctional middle-class family in RememberMe, he is now preparing a bittersweet drama about an 18 year-old girl'scoming-of-age experience. The Roman director, who has once again teamed up withhis long-time producer, Fandango's Domenico Procacci, has written the scriptwith his younger brother Silvio and his wife, Elena Majoni.

Actor-writer Silvio Muccino himself is to follow his sleeper hit WhatWill Become Of Us (Che Ne Sara Di Noi) with a romantic comedy, entitled ManualeD'Amore. Muccino has once again teamed up with director Giovanni Veronesiand producer Aurelio De Laurentiis, and the picture, which explores the fourphases of love, will see him star alongside Carlo Verdone, Margherita Buy andJasmine Trinca (The Son's Room).

Meanwhile, Abel Ferrara is set to start production in Italy in 2005 on Mary,a drama about an egotistical filmmaker who is making a film about the life ofChrist, and the actress playing the part of Mary, who is trapped in her role.Ferrara is also in pre-production on Go-Go Tales, a screwball comedyabout a Manhattan lap dance club which is due to shoot in Rome next year withHarvey Keitel, who has recently been in Italy shooting The Shadow Dancer.The $10m drama focuses on a New York editor who travels to Tuscany to try andpersuade a reclusive writer to get back to work. Joshua Jackson and GiancarloGiannini co-star.

For full Italian production listings, click here.