Romantic comedy Eight Basque Surnames sets Spain box office record

MADRID (AFP) - A romantic comedy film set in Spain's politically sensitive Basque region has become the country's biggest ever home-grown box office hit, its distributor said on Monday.

Eight Basque Surnames by director Emilio Martinez Lazaro "is the most watched Spanish film with 6.6 million viewers" in cinemas since its release on March 14, Universal Pictures Spain said in a statement.

The film treads sensitive ground with the tale of a red-blooded Andalusian, Rafa, who comically pretends to be a proud Basque in his efforts to woo a Basque woman, Amaia, on her home turf.

Cautious hopes have arisen in the Basque country after the armed separatist movement ETA in 2011 promised a definitive end to decades of violence there.

"If ETA were still killing, this film could not have been made," the director was quoted as saying by El Pais newspaper.

The film has drawn praise for tackling sensitivities about Basque identity and cultural difference in Spain with a light-hearted touch.

"It does away once and for all with the most alienating stereotypes, at least the ones that have done the most harm," wrote journalist Juan Mari Gastaca in El Pais newspaper.

The film beat the previous record for the number of tickets sold, set by Spanish director Alejandro Amenabar's 2001 horror film The Others, starring Nicole Kidman.

Eight Basque Surnames has taken 38.8 million euros (S$67.2 million) at the box office, the fourth-biggest takings ever in Spain after Avatar (2009), The Impossible (2012) and Titanic (1997), Universal said.