Italian entertainment: Cinepanettone
- WTI Magazine #146 Dec 18, 2021
Cinepanettone: does this word mean anything to you? If so, you are not on Google or any other translation platform: for all of them, the word Cinepanettone can mean “Christmas Family Comedy Movie”'. And this is what it means, but not just it. It’s like translating lasagne as several egg pasta sheets lined with béchamel and delicious ragù sauce. It can be true, but it won’t evoke the same mystic feeling of hearing the word “Lasagna”.
For the same reason, it will be Cinepanettone until the end of this article. So, what is a Cinepanettone movie, and why is it so relevant in the Italian popular culture of the last century?
Cinepanettone as Christmas Family Comedy Movie is a genre invented in the early 80s by the director Carlo Vanzina and produced by the De Laurentiis family. One of them, Aurelio De Laurentiis, is also the owner of the Napoli Soccer Club now, and from then same family comes the famous chef Giada De Laurentiis.
Everything started in 1983, when the producers tried to replicate the big score of “Sapore di Mare”, a movie that had so much success in Italy, describing the 60s in the summertime of the Tuscan Riviera. The first “Vacanze di Natale” (Christmas holidays) from 1983 was a masterpiece, and it rapidly became a cult. It was showing diverse backgrounds and lives mixing each other in that social laboratory that was the Italian society during the 80s, characterized by the boost of economic growth and freedom after the 70s, a decade of economic crisis and political terrorism. The Italian lifestyle was changing much faster than the Italian mentality. Characters perfectly suit their roles, and the denunciation of social hypocrisy was covered by a perfect comedy. It made people laugh but also reflect. That movie created many expressions and quotes that some of us still use today. One is the famous quote by Doctor Covelli the rich father of the Covelli family, who at the end of the Christmas dinner he doesn’t enjoy that much, says “E anche ‘sto Natale, se lo semo levato dalle palle”, that we can translate (And we finally managed to get rid of this Christmas, too). You might be surprised of how many times an Italian adult has quoted these words in the last decades at Christmastime...
Due to the huge success of the 1983 film, the producers decided to replicate it in a genre, to be launched on the Italian cinemas during the Christmas period, when usually more people go to the movies. That is why it is called cinepanettone, and that is how it has become the movie genre that made more money than anyone else in Italy in the 90s and 2000s.
But as time went by, the Italian reality depicted by these movies started to change. The Italian dream of the 80s, symbolically born with the victory of the Soccer World Cup of 1982, symbolically ended with another Soccer World Cup in 1990, when we lost (and it was played in Italy). Italy changed, as its society and its people did. In the 90s our country tried to cling on to the successes of the 80s. And this part of the Italian cinema did the same. At Christmastime, Italian people were still looking for some relief from the formula that had made them laugh in the past. The relationship with this genre became very solid but toxic, because the comedy was no longer the same.
Jokes were becoming heavier every year, sexist, racist, in a storyline that was always the same: at least one white rich man cheating on his wife with a very sexy and young girl, trying not to be discovered (and of course ending up being discovered). Characters were stupid, trivial, ignorant. Not evil, but definitely not good examples. The funny quotes often switched into swear words and vulgar and disparaging phrases, and the harsher it got, the more people seemed to enjoy it. It was like general anesthesia.
At a certain point, people got bored and probably understood it was too much; this hangover passed, and the Italians realized how despicable it was to objectify women, to offend other cultures, to show lack of common sense and respect. Make no mistake, nothing was done to harm anyone, the goal was still to make laugh the audience: luckily, the audience stopped laughing and going to the cinema to see these movies.
This genre has been over for a decade now. Comedy in Italy has improved, broadening new horizons.
I would therefore not recommend watching one of the last filmed Cinepanettone, which are usually called “Vacanze di Natale” (Christmas Holidays) plus some exotic place. Instead, I strongly suggest you to look for the first movie, “Vacanze di Natale” from 1983. Cinepanettone still is an important instrument to read a part of the evolution of the Italian society and culture: luckily Italy now has a different sensitivity, a much better balanced one.