Whether it is because it is that rather magical moment of the year when anything is possible or because everyone becomes childlike in their enjoyment of the familiar annual sounds, tastes and smells, but Christmas is the most celebrated event in cinema.
The iconography of Christmas always includes certain elements: snow, the bearded big man dressed in red, family, love, presents, the warmth of home, yet the big screen has always been able to find original ways to frame it.
We are all kinder at Christmas, so no fear: a happy ending is always guaranteed… or almost always.
Fabio De Luigi with Valentina Lodovini his wife and children drove “Mr Christmas” all the way home to Finland after knocking him down in the battered campervan that took them through the most beautiful valleys in Alto Adige: San Candido, Dobbiaco, Bressanone, Brunico, Braies Lake and Sesto, in the film 10 giorni con Babbo Natale. The snow gets heavier as they head North but, famously, Christmas also brings warmth with love.
It was back in 2012 when goofy De Luigi (him again) followed his in-laws and pregnant wife (this time Cristiana Capotondi) to spend Christmas in Valle d’Aosta in the fairy tale setting of Gressoney-Saint-Jean whose magical castle, Castel Savoia, was chosen by the director Alessandro Genovesi to project the idea of wealth without excess or vulgarity. Not for nothing was this castle built by a queen, Margherita of Savoy, commissioned in the early 1900s as her summer residence because she had a lover in the area. Setbacks, adventures and the traditional happy ending are the ingredients of Il peggior Natale della mia vita(The Worst Christmas of My Life).
Rolling away from the snowy North heading due South, the atmosphere changes: welcomed in Apulia by sunny Polignano decked out for the Christmas holidays, perched on the cliff and surrounded by the emerald sea that contrasts with the white alleys of the historical centre. Here live Riccardo Scamarcio and Laura Chiatti - he’s a lecher, she’s pregnant, they’re a couple with problems but very in love – and their parents, Michele Placido and Maria Pia Calzone, whose own loves were denied them in their youth and have never waned since. The Scagliusi family and their friends meet up at the home of patriarch Don Mimì (Placido) in La cena di Natale, all in states of agitation. Hysterical outbursts, however, fade into the background when the eternal Christmas miracle, blessed by the snow, silences everyone into admiring contemplation.
Christmas is always Christmas … whether in a restaurant, a memory of good times past, at home, as most of us will be this year, or in a police station like Aldo, Giovanni and Giacomo, forced to defend themselves from the accusation of being The Santa Claus Gang in La banda dei Babbi Natale. Several places in Milan help describe the ordinary lives of our three unfortunate leads; in particular Piazza degli Affari, the Museum of Natural History and via Pietro Borsieri where, having left the illuminated skyscrapers of Garibaldi Station behind, they have a close encounter with the dangerous gang the police is looking for.
Let’s end with a Christmas classic: Parenti serpenti (Poisonous Relatives). Four siblings who live in Central and Northern Italy with their families find themselves returning to their childhood village, where their elderly parents still reside, for the holidays: this has the roads and squares of Sulmona in Abruzzo (and the traditions of Lanciano). Let’s try to imagine the film set in 2020: the poor old people alone for the holidays, their children far away, no kisses or hugs, no memories being made, no rumours, hypocrisy or mean behaviour, no midnight mass and (would this be so bad?) no ending with … a bang. No, Monicelli’s searing black comedy is about a cynical, yet busy and festive Christmas. No fairy-tale or happy ending. A real Christmas then, the kind that we recognise and get drawn into every year.