Amidall the fervour over Michael Moore's documentary sensation Fahrenheit 9/11, there has been another modestly budgetedindependent film quietly showing box office promise in the face of stiffcompetition from the onslaught of big budget Hollywood blockbusters. Only thisparticular sleeper happens to have been made in the Spanish language.

WalterSalles' The Motorcycle Diaries,which opened seven weeks ago in Italy, has already topped the box office grossof Lost In Translation in thatsame territory and has out-grossed Salles' own breakthrough film CentralStation by a multiple of four.

StarringGael Garcia Bernal as the young Che Guevara during his consciousness-raising youngyears traveling across the South American continent with his Argentine buddy, MotorcycleDiaries has just broken through the$4m mark in Italy, where it remains in the top ten on an impressive 54 screens.

Alongwith Brazil, Salles' home country, Italy is the film's first major marketplacetest since Motorcycle Diaries woncritical plaudits at this year's Sundance and Cannes film festivals. And so farthe results have been a stunning success for Pathe International'sSpanish-language, Latin American film that looks certain now to play out verywell through the summer and is perfectly poised -- as planned -- for a re-releaseat US awards time.

Againstincredibly fierce competition from the likes of Troy, Van Helsing and Day After Tomorrow,the film opened saw a strong launch in Italy for Bim Distribuzione, openingthird and enjoying the second best average (after fellow opener Troy) of the week.

Combinedwith the film's second weekend in Brazil, Salles' home country, MotorcycleDiaries placed 17th thatweek on Screen's exclusiveinternational box office chart. Its collective gross across both territoriescurrently hovers around $6m.

Thefall-off in Italy since its opening has been minimal, with percentage drops forweeks two and three of just 9% and 21% respectively. Certainly, the film isholding up especially well in comparison with recent Oscar best picturenominees that have proved Oscar winners in a myriad other categories and heapedhundreds of millions at the worldwide box office.

Withan Italian gross so far of $4,077,713, Motorcycle Diaries has already out-distanced Lost In Translation ($3.7m); Gosford Park ($3.1m), Secrets & Lies ($2.4m) and In The Bedroom ($450,000). It is also tracking ahead of CrouchingTiger, Hidden Dragon, which hadgrossed $3,123,057 at the end of its seventh week in the territory.

Infact, all the omens point to a potent Oscar campaign. Its North Americandistributor Focus Features certainly believes so, having earmarked MotorcycleDiaries for a September 24 releasein North America, just a week later than Lost In Translation opened last year and began capturing the publicimagination and winning statuettes.

"PatheInternational and Bim have done a wonderful job in the film's firstinternational release and perfectly positioned it for worldwide expansion thisfall," noted Focus co-chief David Linde, whose company paid $4m for NorthAmerican rights to the subtitled film within hours of its world premiere atSundance.