It’s an old tradition, as Italian as pasta. Come the festive season – and into the new year – low-brow comedy dubbed cinepanettone pulls people away from their TVs and into cinemas.
However, the success of the latest slice of celluloid light relief, Quo Vado?, can be measured by the ease with which it has booted its nearest rival, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, clean into orbit. Quo Vado? took more than €22m (£16.5m) over the three-day holiday weekend at the beginning of the year, nearly equalling the total the new Star Wars film had made in three weeks.
Quo Vado? – the title is a spin on the 1950s epic Quo Vadis (Where Are You Going?) – is breaking Italian box office records, despite an overall downturn in ticket sales following the terrorist attacks in Paris in November.
A clue to the success of this low-brow comedy is that Quo Vado?, in addition to the usual clichés, has demonstrated some timely satire – and hit a political nerve.
Starring the popular comic actor Checco Zalone, it is the tale of a loafer from southern Italy who will do anything to cling on to his pen-pushing civil service post, despite being sent to the North Pole; it has chimed with a nation afflicted by a warped labour market.
Italy has a reputation for guaranteeing state officials jobs for life, while millions struggle without a minimum wage and others graft as perpetual interns. This is in addition to a recession that hit many workers hard.
La Repubblica newspaper called the film a “comic hymn of sorts, with some bite, to the lost wonders of a locked-in steady job”. One cinema-goer, Stefania Aoi, told The Independent on Sunday that the scene in which the young protagonist said all he wanted when he grew up was a “fixed state contract” had touched a chord.
And Enrico Zilli, a 34-year-old public relations consultant, said: “The funny thing is that when you watch it, it kind of makes you cringe. But ... you see the funny side.”
Some pundits have said the film should be enjoyed for what it is. And one satisfied customer, the Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, said he “laughed from start to finish”.
Mr Renzi said he had seen the film with his children, who knew the jokes from Zalone’s films “by heart”.
Referring to the fact that Zalone, and his films, had been snubbed by certain intellectuals, the Prime Minister said: “It makes me smile when I see [people] praise him [Zalone], having previously hated or ignored him.”
It appears that many Italians share Mr Renzi’s taste in films, with Quo Vado? having racked up more than €38m at the box office by this weekend.
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Star Wars: The Force Awakens World Premiere
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Carrie Fisher on the red carpet
2/10 Star Wars premiere
Stormtroopers arrive on the red carpet in LA
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C3P0 and R2D2
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Actress Lupita Nyong'o
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6/10 Star Wars premiere
Peter Mayhew, who played Chewbacca in the original films
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Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill are reunited
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John Boyega and Carrie Fisher
9/10 Star Wars premiere
Adam Driver and Oscar Isaac
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Steven Spielberg, JJ Abrams and Oscar Isaac
The film is closing in on the record for an Italian movie in the country, currently held by Sole a Catinelle – another film starring Zalone – that made around €52m.
Quo Vado? beat the previous three-day weekend record, which had been held by Sole a Catinelle since 2013, after taking €18.6m. Quo Vado? also set a Sunday record last week of just under €7.8m, beating previous heavyweights such as Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, the final instalment in the Hogwarts franchise.
As for the film itself, the trademark slapstick of the genre remains, and a key question is whether most people flocking to Quo Vado? are laughing with the protagonist or at him. In the land of Fellini and Antonioni, this new take on cinepanettone has sparked derision in some quarters.
Some have reminded Mr Renzi that the film was also an indictment of Italian politicians: “Can someone explain to Renzi that Zalone’s film is a hilarious and grotesque satire on the worst Italian habits – especially those permitted by the political classes?” wrote one commentator on an internet chat forum.
At least Mr Renzi, as a centrist politician battling to modernise the labour market, could argue he is trying to change things.
Regardless of whether or not he actually likes the film, as one of Italy’s most astute politicians – probably the shrewdest since Silvio Berlusconi – he also understands that a lot of voters find it funny.
The success was also not lost on Dario Franceschini, the culture minister, who tweeted: “Thank you #CheccoZalone. The success of #QuoVado is good for all of Italian cinema and is a great start to the 2016 theatrical season.”
With Quo Vado? closing in on more box office records, Zalone is certainly one person who is laughing – all the way to the bank.Reuse content