In praise of Enrico Oldoini
Enrico Oldoini (right): a cameo with Nino Frassica in Anni 90 parte II
For the blogger Manu over at Secondavisione, sometime cinepanettone director (and screenwriter) Enrico Oldoini is ‘il più scarso dei registi che si sono cimentati con genere’ - and that is, of course, to say something, given the low opinions of critics as well as cinephile bloggers of the three names - Oldoini, Neri Parenti and Carlo Vanzina - especially associated with the films. We remember Brunetta’s haughty assessment of directors, films and audience:
In effetti il cinema dei Vanzina, di Neri Parenti, di Enrico Oldoini, può diventare l’emblema più significativo di un decennio caratterizzato, almeno nelle immagini vincenti, da un bisogno di ridere, da una rinuncia a pensare, da una celebrazione dell’apparire, dal cinismo e dal rampantismo, dall’abbassamento sensibile del quoziente di intelligenza comica, dalla convinzione della perfetta permeabilità tra cinema e televisione […]. (Gian Piero Brunetta, Il cinema italiano da ‘La dolce vita’ a ‘Centochiodi’ (Roma: Laterza, 2007), p. 608)
Some Oldoini is definitely awful: fast forward was invented for the Ezio Greggio sections of Vacanze di Natale ‘91, and much of the material in the Boldi film La fidanzata di papa’ ’sta sul mondo solo perche’ c’e’ spazio’ (as Salvatore Satta might put it) - though culpability in both cases may lie elsewhere (with actor and producer respectively). But I suspect the main reasons for the denigration of his work are two.
The first, seen in Brunetta above, is the perceived character of the relation between his films and television: the films promiscuously borrow topics and actors/personalities from the small screen. The treatment of the former is always satirical, but I can see that some stuff in the films has a very early use-by date (though I’m sure that implies built-in nostalgia too). Often, however, the actors are a joy - this is certainly true of Boldi, Nino Frassica, Maurizio Mattioli and Andrea Roncato in the episode discussed below. Sure, I didn’t grow up watching Italian TV and so I haven’t suffered over-familiarity with these figures; but my fresh eyes find them to be skilled, committed, hilarious.
The second reason for the widespread scorn for Oldoini’s work is that he makes films in a farcical register about the challenges and problems of being a man. In fact, I believe this is one of the reasons for the low status of the cinepanettone as a whole (and I will devote a post to the issue in the next few days). The cinepanettone is felt to be an embarrassment because of the remarkable extent to which it foregrounds the instability of normative masculinities (Italian and otherwise); indeed, one might suggest that such instability is the supreme theme of the entire filone - it just refuses to take the theme seriously.
Personally, I find Oldoini’s filmmaking to be generous to his actors and technically adept, with an exceptionally varied repertoire of camera movement - see, for example, the whip pans and Scorsese-esque run-and-gun long take that opens Anni 90. Here’s another case in point, one of my favourite cinepanettone episodes, ‘Amore parlato’, from the same film. The episode features a group sex-therapy session led by Flavio Bucci - who serious people know best as the protagonist in Marco Tullio Giordana’s first film and from his tremendous slack-jawed turn as Andreotti’s right-hand man in Il Divo. I love the variety here: the physicality of the men’s performances (especially Roncato’s) versus the deadpan amusement on the women’s faces and Boldi’s blissful reaction shots; the rhythmic mixture of group shots, two shots and medium close-ups; the significant use of angles, mostly (eye-)level, but once high (5:38) followed by low as the scene ends; the mobile camera that arrives at a character just before he’s referred to (4:53-5:03); the insert reaction shots (e.g., Bucci’s at 4:50) that organize the space and inflate the satirical drama; and so on (if I was David Bordwell I could usefully keep you here all day). This blog post is in praise of Enrico Oldoini, but mention obviously has to be made here of his editor Raimondo Crociani and cinematographer Sergio Salvati (despite some lazy focus) as well as of the actors already mentioned.
I want to finish by discussing an aspect of the film already mentioned in the previous post, the use of widescreen in Anni 90. Again, the main characteristic is variety, from medium close up (though no Leone style extreme close ups here) to the so-called clothesline composition for which widescreen has sometimes been deplored:
At the beginning of the scene, the mobile camera circles around the seated group, but earlier in the episode we have had some nice ensemble tableaux where the actors move within the frame, and clever use is made of a changing room mirror to give even more depth to a deep space:
Finally, mise-en-scene, mise-en-shot and screen format (and music) work to satirical effect in the final shots (ending on a freeze frame). The stained glass, low angle and epic scale (and organ music) sanctify Boldi and elevate the ‘sexual problems’ of the men to a pseudo-melodramatic pitch: a set up, naturally, for the deflating, cynical punchline.
As I said, vulnerable masculinity is the great theme of the cinepanettone, but not one the films take seriously.
More comedy models and motifs in the cinepanettone
Following on from the previous post in which I pointed out possible sources for the banterous ‘buddy’ relationships in Natale in Sud Africa (2010), and an earlier entry in which I pointed out the echoes in a Neri Parenti film of a satirical motif from the commedia all’italiana, I want to post here a few clips and photos to illustrate further comedy models for the cinepanettoni.
Director Neri Parenti’s fondness for silent comedy (he has made a pair of films with Paolo Villaggio and Renato Pozzetto entitled Le comiche (1990, 1991) - the title also once given to programmes of silent comedy on Italian TV), slapstick and violent cartoons is well known. These first few clips illustrate something of this taste.
Ignore for now - if you can - the race and gender issues in the following clip from Parenti’s Natale a Rio (2008) and concentrate instead on the cartoon inflation of the dead cat. Christian De Sica told me that he and Ghini (the two actors in the clip) were annoyed at how unpersuasive the fake cat was (and the digital rendition is clumsy too) but it seems to me that this absence of realism allows the viewer to collaborate in the joke.