Tap into a light-hearted holiday tradition in Italy

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The cinepanettone genre of Italian cinema emerged in the 1980s with Carlo and Enrico Vanzina’s 1983 “Vacanze di Natale” (Christmas Holidays), a slapstick comedy set on the ski slopes of Cortina d’Ampezzo in northern Italy. The film follows two families of different classes whose worlds intertwine while on vacation. Among the all-star cast are Christian De Sica and Stefania Sandrelli. The film did remarkably well at the box office and set an annual precedent for films featuring outrageous situations set at resort-type locations during Christmastime. De Sica continued as the main protagonist pairing up with actor Massimo Boldi.

The term, cinepanettone, was created by Italian movie critics to describe the low artistic and intellectual value of the films. But that didn’t keep Italians away. Every year, these films were made and embraced by the masses who perhaps needed a bit of comedy relief during the hectic, stressful holiday season.

A few years ago when I talked with actor Mirko Frezza, he gave insight into the sense of family and tradition the cinepanettone films hold in the hearts of Italians. “I like them because they make the whole family stay together. There is Christian De Sica. Massimo Boldi, all the kings of cinepanettone. It’s a moment in which you can gather all your children and watch these films, explaining all the crazy situations in which the characters find themselves,” he explained.

That tradition has evolved and made its way to America via Netflix. A play on words mimicking Italy’s political party, Movimento 5 Stelle (Five Star Movement), the latest cinepanettone film, “5 Star Christmas,” follows Prime Minister Franco Rispoli (Massimo Ghini) and his secretary Walter Bianchini (Ricky Memphis) as they travel to Hungary to meet with leaders during Christmas week. Rispoli discovers a body dressed as Santa Claus stuck in the window of his hotel room. He panics and tries to get rid of it. What follows is a hilarious coverup filled with surprises for everyone.

There is more tradition to this film than meets the eye. The film was directed by Marco Risi, written by Enrico Vanzina and dedicated to Carlo Vanzina, who passed away in 2018. As they are the sons of commedia all’italiana legends Dino Risi and Steno, they are carrying on their fathers’ legacies by bringing laughter to a whole new generation.

To view on Netflix, click here.

 

About Jeannine Guilyard

Jeannine Guilyard is a longtime correspondent for Fra Noi and the Italian-American community newspaper in Rochester, N.Y. She has also contributed to the Italian Tribune of New Jersey, Italian Tribune of Michigan and L'Italo Americano of Southern California. Jeannine wrote and directed the short film "Gelsomina," which was selected for the Screenings Program of the 59th Venice Film Festival, and she won Emmy and Peabody awards as an editor of ABC's "Special Report" following the events of Sept. 11, 2001. Jeannine is also a writer and editor for Italian Cinema Today, a publication and blog she founded in 2005 to bridge culture between New York and Italy. Follow her on Instagram at Italianartcinema and on Twitter at @ItaloCinema2day.

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