‘Ma te pare che io mi alzo per Boldi?’
The Rome press screening and conference for A Natale mi sposo yesterday was a peculiar event. I showed up at the Cinema Adriano early, thereby demonstrating my inexperience. The screening was scheduled for 10am, but started rather later, and I had the opportunity to eavesdrop on the conversation of the critics as they straggled in. It appears that it was an ill-attended screening, and the critics joked amongst themselves about their low expectations for the film. One pointed out to another how few were present. Maybe the screening was too early? Another remarked with irony, imagining the thoughts of an absent colleague, ‘ma
ti te pare che io mi alzo per Boldi!’ The person next to me boasted about how she hadn’t seen the trailer, and joined in the general dismissive discourse. During the film, however, she laughed more than I did.
I don’t want to write a review of the film, but I do want to record a few impressions. The ‘Natale’ in the title signals the intention of the producers (Boldi’s own Mari Film, distribution is by Medusa) to produce a bona fide cinepanettone, while the mention of marriage suggests a ‘softer’ and less cynical approach than that taken in the rival Filmauro (De Laurentiis) films. Boldi talked in the press conference of the film’s ‘family’ character, and has said elsewhere that he thinks of A Natale mi sposo as like a Disney film. As the years have gone by Boldi has tried to mould his persona into a bumbling patriarch, and the film gets all sweet at the end as the parents drop their objection to the marriage of the young lovers (interestingly, Boldi’s character seems to be a widower – something true in earlier films too, like Natale sul Nilo, discussed here). The plot is just about maintained and developed, but the pleasure in the film comes, I believe, from the variation on the familiar. It’s a tediously often-repeated criticism of these films that they repeat jokes from previous entries. But this is to miss the point I think: it is precisely the permutations of the cliché or topos that entertains. Here, Boldi stumbles nearly naked into a gay party, as in, um, Vacanze di Natale ‘95, I think it was; then there’s a version of the hash joke from Bodyguards; and there’s a really excruciatingly funny conversation between… No, actually, I have to start from the beginning with this one. Boldi has a pet rodent of some generically unrecognizable sort, but very hairy. It’s first flattened and then given mouth-to-mouth resuscitation so that it flies around the room like a balloon (cf. Natale a Rio, the De Sica (not Boldi) film from 2008, but I think the joke may originate in one of the Garfield films, if not in Tom and Jerry). Later, Boldi is washing the thing in a bidet when another man comes in, and seeing him from behind believes that Boldi is indeed vigorously cleaning his small hairy beast (do you see what I did there?). The ensuing conversation of double entendres and misunderstanding is very childish and very very funny (my neighbour the critic was guffawing without inhibition). Again, the scene is a variation on something in Natale a Rio (and yes other films) when Christian De Sica’s character talks about his pleasure in a stroking a ‘micia da premiare’ (something like that), a scene that had me clutching at my ribs in involuntary hiccuping mirth and shame. What makes these scenes is the absolute conviction, and at the same time the absolute knowingness, of the performances.
I could go on, but I was struck again by how the film as a whole is less important than the scenes and standard elements it contains. Boldi admitted this, in a way, in the press conference. He talked about how much more footage was filmed than that found in the finished film, and that the work of establishing a comic ‘rhythm’ was done in the editing. Actually, I found the comic rhythm to be off – some scenes seem to finish too soon, and set-ups were often too abbreviated for the pay-off desired. It seemed to me more likely that the film was trimmed in order to keep it around the 1½ hour mark but in such a way as to ensure that it contained the necessary pleasures, be they of address (to at least three separate age groups) or of recognition of standard elements.
One of the necessary pleasures, in this case, was Elisabetta Canalis. Her character seemed to me to be an afterthought (she plays the second wedding planner to the brilliant comic actor Teresa Mannino), written in to the screenplay at a late stage because they needed a newsworthy starlet. This isn’t to denigrate the acting skills of La Canalis, but her character was given little to do, and had an incoherent narrative arc. It was obvious though that the producers had chosen wisely – the cinema filled up for the photo shoot downstairs after the screening and then the press conference in the cinema itself. Half of the questions were to Canalis (and most of the rest to Boldi), about George C., the possibility of their acting together, and so on, and she batted them away with grace and dignity (she always refers to George as ‘mio fidanzato’, never by name).
In other words, the journalists and photographers who turned up late were from the gossip press. But there was a funny atmosphere in the room during the press conference. The non-gossip press critics, having arrived expecting not to like the film, were not disappointed. One or two of the questions were pretty sharp, but mainly it was a kind of tense stand-off. Boldi sat in the middle of the stage with the cast on both sides of him, and was defensive but determined, even if he was unconvincing when discussing themes like the film’s ‘vulgarity’. The Italians seem very exercised about this aspect of the films (toilet and sexual humour I suppose they mean), so that Boldi feels the need to say his films are not vulgar (see the report of the press conference here).
I felt sorry for Boldi, who is looking a little infirm and gouty, but I guess he’s just crying all the way to the bank. It was clear though that there is a strange and bad-tempered divide between the critical mainstream and the makers of the films – as well as the audience for them, of course. I wanted to ask a question about the producers’ conception of the audience for their films, as well as about this fact of the ritual critical dismissal so out of tune with the films’ box office success. But I was too shy.
Luca Peretti writes about the press conference here, and reviews the film here. Needless to say we disagree, but I haven’t sacked him yet. An interesting issue that Luca raises is the question of what is and what is not a cinepanettone - I have resisted declaring myself on this issue so far, and have been discussing certain films (e.g., Fratelli d’Italia) as if they were Christmas films, when they are neither set at Christmas, nor were they released at Christmas. The definition and category of the cinepanettone will be the topic of a subsequent and important blog post.
(added 3 december 2010)