Italy’s Raucous Christmas Classics Aren’t Your Standard Signature Movies

On a recent evening inside the Hotel de la Poste, an alpine hotel in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy’s most popular ski-and-see winter destination, a boisterous party celebrated the birth of a cinematic era.

Forty years earlier, the libidinous comedy “Christmas Holiday” was released, set in the hostel. Nominally about a simple but lucky barroom piano singer in his adultery and the rich Milanese, salt-of-the-earth Romans and tuxedo-wearing bons vivants who surround him, the film anticipated decades of cheerfully vulgar, broad and formulaic Christmas comedies that got a fortune and became known, for the pastries that Italians devour during the season, as “Cinema Panettone”.

To celebrate the anniversary, the film’s producer, writer and stars cut up a huge fire hydrant-sized panettone and participated in a weekend of cinepanettone-themed festivities.

Revelers dressed in furs, sequins and ski sweaters that read “Curtain” or “Mountains and Champagne” danced to “Dance All Nite,” “maracaibo” and other 80s Italian classics on the film’s soundtrack. They sang along with the film’s protagonist at a raucous cabaret dinner. They hit the slopes and ran through a slalom, trying to finish a piece of panettone before reaching the finish line.

“He’s still chewing,” shouted Chiara Caliceti, the weekend’s mistress of ceremonies. “He really ate the panettone!”

Cloying Hallmark Christmas movies set in European cities may be all the rage this year, but in Italy they don’t come close to the cultural juggernaut that panettone cinema once was.

For three decades, movies dominated the holiday season, until their stars aged, streaming platforms took over, and the industry’s tastes and economics changed. Never considered suitable for consumption abroad, they were for fans who appreciated a slice of Italian culture during the hedonistic and carefree turn of the century. To critics, however, they reflected the consumerism and sexism of the showgirls of Silvio Berlusconi’s era which, like a shameful secret, was best kept in the family.

A dozen years after the films ran their course, their producers and fans are trying to capitalize on nostalgia and rehabilitate them as cult classics that elevated Italy’s love of cuckolding, toilet humor to an art form. and the folkloric swear words that result when Italians of different classes and regions clash.

“Intellectuals keep telling us that they are vulgar. It’s low, but they don’t understand it: they do it on purpose,” said Claudio Cecchetto, 71, an Italian music producer who presided over the dance party at the hotel. “These are super smart people who decided to go down. People just want to have fun. I mean, what the hell.”

“Christmas,” which many middle-aged Italians can quote by heart, was followed by “Christmas” in 1990, 1991, 1995 and 2000. The films were often set in Cortina and were premised on guests from different backgrounds and parts of the country. Italy. cursing and courting each other in ski lodges.

The 2000s marked a move to exotic locales (Christmas in Rio, India, South Africa and New York) and often offered a smorgasbord of physical jokes, sophomoric parodies, bare breasts and racial stereotypes. Connoisseurs consider “Christmas on the Nile,” released in 2002, to be the apogee (or depth) of the genre. It featured a mummy-wrapped toilet paper gag. In 2009, the screens reserved for “Christmas in Beverly Hills” forced “Avatar” will postpone its arrival in Italian cinemas.

“They are designed to be seen together,” said Alan O’Leary, a professor of film studies and author of the book “Cinemattone phenomenology”, who said they were deliberately broad to attract and make laugh generations of Italian families who went to the movies together after Christmas.

He said the exaggerated representations of regional archetypes in a relatively young and fragmented country continued the work of “telling Italians that they are Italians” and more than anything reflected Italy’s Christmas “carnival period” when you go overboard on things.

No matter how far panettone films have traveled, Cortina d’Ampezzo, with its icy streets lined with brands worthy of a luxury shopping center (Rolex, Moncler, Fendi, Fendi Kids), has always been considered its ancestral home. During a weekend in December, the city, which will host part of the 2026 Olympic Games, became for many the Italian garbage Olympics.

In a quiet corner of the hotel bar, waiters in white jackets waited on Aurelio De Laurentiis, the powerful producer of “Christmas” and the more than 30 theatrical panettone films that followed. His assistant and everyone else called him “il Presidente” because he was president and owner of the Naples soccer club. After a plate of pasta, he crossed the room to film a promotional ad for a one-day theatrical re-release of the film on Saturday, but the camera lights kept flickering, forcing him to start over repeatedly.

Back at his corner table, he said that “historical” films captured the Italy of the time, when Berlusconi was conquering the country. De Laurentiis said the films were successful because they were essentially “instant” films off a cinematic conveyor belt, and that he stopped them after three decades because he ran out of exotic locations and became distracted by his football team. Contrary to those who say that sexist jokes can’t be made today, he thought they were just what the sad post-#MeToo era needed.

He said he’d like to try making such a movie, suggesting a crude and vulgar name for a #MeToo Christmas movie.

“This could be a good title for a movie,” he said, explaining that it would be “based on sincerity.”

Mr. De Laurentiis, pleased with himself, asked his assistant what he thought of the proposed title.

“Bellissimo,” said the assistant.

Jerry Calà, who played the randy bar pianist in the 1983 film, also lamented that “this politically correct moment is destroying comedy.” He said young people were rediscovering panettone films precisely because they were hungry for tasteless transgressions.

But the original film’s screenwriter, Enrico Vanzina, rejected the “cinema panettone” label for the 1980s Christmas films he worked on, which he said were based, after a period of surrealism, on the Real and striking Italian life.

Mr. Vanzina comes from a family of filmmakers. His late brother directed the original “Christmas,” and his father, known as Steno, directed some of the most beloved comedies from the golden age of mid-century Italian cinema, known as La Commedia all’Italiana.

During a panel discussion in the shadow of the giant panettone, Vanzina was infuriated when Lucia Borgonzoni, the right-wing undersecretary of culture, appeared in a video to pay tribute to the “famous cinematic panettone I grew up with.”

“I got angry,” Vanzina, who has long white hair, said of the official’s ode, which, in a subsequent written statement, removed all reference to cinematic panettone.

As he commandeered a small table reserved for bottle service, Vanzina argued, like many Italians, that these are the movies Italians really loved. He said they evolved from the great tradition of Italian comedies, including “Holiday Vacation,” a 1959 film also set in Cortina and starring Vittorio De Sica, the great Italian director of neorealist masterpieces and father of Christian De Sica. who became the king of panettone cinema films.

“It’s not La Commedia all’Italiana, it’s its degeneration,” said Teresa Marchesi, film critic for the left-wing newspaper Domani. He said that as movie ticket prices rose and mass audiences stopped regularly going to theaters, movies applied a lowest common denominator equation of vulgarity, slapstick and skin to appeal to a lucrative market of poor families who They could splurge on Christmas.

He said panettone cinema took off when Berlusconi and his television channels eroded Italian values ​​and offered a new “political and cultural model” of success measured in opulent wealth and arm candy. “It is not at all a mirror of Italianness, it is a projection,” he said. “It’s his Bunga Bunga filmed.”

That festive spirit permeated the Hotel de la Poste, where fans paid hundreds of euros per plate for a dinner and concert by Mr. Calà.

“’Maracaibo’!” The crowd screamed, begging for her favorite wild party song.

“’Maracaibo’ is at the end,” Calà said, a guitar hanging from his shoulder. “Don’t break my balls, huh?”

Calà, who suffered a heart attack this year, worked through the cheesy canon of Italian sing-along hits, wiping his bald head with a blue handkerchief and making lewd jokes about short skirts. Behind him, a digital screen displayed the film’s original poster, which showed skier bunnies spinning around in a snow globe. Then suddenly he switched to footage of an environmental award given to F. Murray Abraham.

Calà continued on and the room exploded when he finally played “Maracaibo” (“Ron y cocaine, Zaza”). He pushed for a limited-participation reissue of the film, then walked offstage and through the clamoring crowd with a dazed expression.

When he approached his friends and family in the next room and touched his chest, waiters approached with plates full of panettone. Mauro Happy, a 60-year-old publicist sitting at the next table, happily participated. “I’m in love,” he said in a choked statement, “with movie panettone.”