It all began in 1983 with Vacanze di Natale (Christmas Holidays), a comedy by Italian directors and screenwriters Carlo and Enrico Vanzina. The movie reunited most of the actors who played in the successful movies Sapore di Mare (Taste of the Sea, 1982) and Sapore di Mare 2 - Un Anno Dopo (Taste of the Sea 2 - One Year Later, 1983). The two romantic comedies were set in 1960s Italy amidst the economic boom of the time and played heavily on the nostalgia card. These films were aimed squarely at the Baby Boomers, who were teenagers in the 60s. On the other hand, Vacanze had a contemporary setting and played on the antics of the nouveau riche in the Italy of the Eighties, during the second economic boom. The plot followed the lives of two families, a rich one and a poor one, during a Christmas holiday in the exclusive winter retreat of Cortina d'Ampezzo. The movie was a mix of a light love story between members of the different families and funny episodes sparked by the different lifestyle of the two heads of the families. Many subplots and one-off comedy sketches, heavily inspired by the most popular memes of the time, filled out the plot of the movie.
This formula proved to be a huge success among Italian moviegoers. From then on, producer Aurelio De Laurentiis--first with the Vanzinas as directors and screenwriters, then with director Neri Parenti--began producing movies to be always released at Christmas. For many years, their main leads were Christian De Sica and Massimo Boldi.The quality of the movies, from a critical point of view, deteriorated year after year, leaving behind the criticism of modern life and leaning heavily on the simplest parody of current popular events and memes, not dissimilar to cheap spoof movies like the Scary Movie series or the 1960s british carry-on flics.
Movie critics regularly lambast these movies for their limited artistic ambitions and for being characterized by a very popular vulgar comedy, often based on cheap puns, gross sexual innuendos and double meanings. In addition, critics argue that the movies lack a proper plot, which is instead replaced by a light framework "story," written artfully for the routine performances of the main actors and to show off the supporting actors, who often are celebrities of the moment lacking any acting ability.
Nevertheless, "cinepanettoni," as these movies are called, are always a big hit at the box office, and are met with favor by the general public. To put this in perspective, James Cameron's blockbuster Avatar was released globally between December 16 and 18, 2009, but was only released in Italian cinemas in January, because distributors were well aware the movie may not have fared well against that year's cinepanettone.
And while this movie genre is heavily despised by film connoiseurs and snobs, there are those who find positive qualities in them. From a narrative point of view, Christmas movies are often common and repetitive, as well as coarsely produced. They are a bit like cinema's flat-pack furniture: each of them can be disassembled, crushed and reassembled with ease. They are simple movies, but not dishonest. According to some, they are not really so different from films made in the fifties, like those of Toto. Nostalgia aside, these films also have the important task of reviving and getting work for the Italian film industry and are the only ones that can reach the box office results of major foreign productions.
A partial list of cinepanettoni:
Vacanze di Natale (1983)
Vacanze in America (1984)
In 1990 Christian De Sica was promoted to main lead and was joined by Massimo Boldi. The duo enjoyed a long and successful partnership in:
Vacanze di Natale '90 (1990)
Vacanze di Natale '91 (1991)
Anni 90 (film) (1992)
Anni 90 - Parte II (1993)
S.P.Q.R. 2000 e ½ anni fa (1994)
Vacanze di Natale '95 (1995)
A spasso nel tempo (1996)
A spasso nel tempo: l'avventura continua (1997)
Vacanze di Natale 2000 (1999)
Body Guards - Guardie del corpo (2000)
Merry Christmas (2001)
Natale sul Nilo (2002)
Natale in India (2003)
Christmas in Love (2004)
Natale a Miami (2005)
The Boldi - De Sica duo split in 2005 and each one went on to star in his own series of movies:
Natale a New York (2006)
Natale in crociera (2007)
Natale a Rio (2008)
Natale a Beverly Hills (2009)
Natale in Sudafrica (2010)
Vacanze di Natale a Cortina (2011)
Colpi di Fulmine (2012)
Colpi di Fortuna (2013)
Matrimonio alle Bahamas (2007)
La fidanzata di papà (2008)
A Natale mi Sposo (2010)
Natale a Parigi (2011)
SInce 2012, Boldi has turned his interest to the "tele-panettone" creating a series of straight to tv series filmed exculsively for Mediaset, shown around Christmas. He inaugurated the new trend in 2012 with Natale a Quattro Zampe, where usual comic antics from cunning and naughty protagonists were paired with those of their pets.
By Andrea Nicosia