What is a Cinepanettone?
What in the world are cinepanettoni, you wonder? Well, cine- comes from cinema (i.e., the movies, movie theatre) and a panettone is an Italian Christmas cake. It’s sort of a sweet bread with candied fruit and raisins. The plural of panettone is panettoni. So, one panettone, two panettoni. Therefore, cinepanettoni = Christmas-Cake-Movies. Or “Fruitcake-Movies”. But don’t worry too much about the literal meaning. It basically refers to trashy, funny Italian Christmas movies. They tend to be silly comedies released before Christmas, often dealing with Christmas celebrations in Italy or during family trips abroad. Think of the National Lampoon’s Vacation series and you get the picture.
Cinepanettoni are basically movies that no self-respecting Italian will admit to watching, or, gasp, liking. But consider that one of the biggest successes of the classic cinepanettoni, a movie called Natale Sul Nilo, made almost 30 million Euros at the box office in 2002. It was second overall that year in box office revenues – just barely behind Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. And that’s only people watching these kitschy, funny movies publicly at the movie theater. Imagine all the people out there watching them at home where nobody can see!
A Brief History of the Cinepanettone
The whole genre of cinepanettoni started back in 1983 with the movie Vacanze di Natale. It is a typical 80ies sort-of-slapstick comedy that features Italian couples and families during their annual ski trip in the pretty Cortina d’Ampezzo in the Dolomites. Some of these families are from very different background. Think rich and elegant meats poor and trashy.
There is no official definition for a cinepanettone and therefore no official complete list, but O’Leary provides a great summary in his article The Phenomenology of the Cinepanettone. At first, these Italian Christmas comedies came out sporadically. Then, in the 90ies, they started coming out annually and almost always featured the actor duo Christian De Sica and Massimo Boldi. It was sort of the heyday of cinepanettoni. They in no way represented the “great” Italian movies many Italians are so very proud of. Like Fellini and La Dolce Vita for example. So, it’s no wonder that this is when the term cinepanettone came about. It was used by film critics to talk smack about this “unworthy” yet very popular category of movies. The success of cinepanettoni though kept going all the way through 2010. Since then, there haven’t been huge hits anymore, but the number of funny Christmas movies released each year has increased. So, the competition is strong. In 2017, there are three cinepanettoni vying for our attention at the movies: “Natale da chef”, “Poveri ma ricchissimi”, and “Super vacanze di Natale”. I’d say the genre is thriving.
Cinepanettone Successes from 2007 to 2016
The highest-grossing cinepanettone from each year is listed below – along with a few plot details for each of the films.
Poveri ma Ricchi (2016): $7.2 million
This 2016 hit is based on a French success called Les Tuche. In the Italian version, the French family Tuche becomes the Italian family Tucci. They live in a small village in Lazio, the same region in which Rome is located. They are rather poor and unfortunately also not very smart – with the exception of the son who is hiding his smarts to fit in better with the rest of the family. When they win a lot of money and their neighbors find out, they flee to the big city, Milan. There, they find out quickly that being rich isn’t really what they imagined it to be.
Natale col Boss (2015) – $8.5 million
Usually the word criminal invokes the image of a serious and dreadful character. However, this 2015 film is a comedy. So, don’t let the bad guys scare you. Imagine a big mafia boss whose face nobody knows. Then, two less than capable police guys find out how he looks like. Throw in two also less than capable plastic surgeons. Now imagine all the things that could go wrong when they give him the wrong new face. It’s not exactly your typical cinepanettone, but it’s hilarious.
Il Ricco, il Povero e il Maggiordomo (2014) – $15.4 million
A rich broker and his butler/driver have an accident with an illegal street vendor. When the rich guy loses all of his money and is forced to move himself and his butler to the poor guy’s mom’s house, the three of them have to work together to change their luck. Sounds unrealistic? Yep, it does. And it’s funny too.
Colpi di Fortuna (2013) – $14.9 million
Three different stories in one movie: (1) Two friends and colleagues win the lottery, lose the lottery ticket during a wild celebration, and have to retrace their steps to find it (a la Hangover); (2) A business guy is about to finalize a big deal abroad… if only it wasn’t for his translator who brings him nothing but bad luck. (3) A guy finds out later in life that he has a younger brother. Who has some issues.
Colpi di Fulmine (2012) – $13.4 million
This film tells two stories that both deal with love at first sight. The first part is all about a guy who runs from the police and hides in a small northern village. There, he disguises himself as a priest. And promptly falls in love with a police woman. The second part is about a fancy ambassador who falls in love with a poor girl that sells fish. With the help of his driver, the ambassador tries to fit into her world.
Vacanze di Natale a Cortina (2011) – $14.8 million
The lives of three different vacationing couples/families all intersect in Cortina d’Ampezzo, a stylish ski village in the Dolomites: a chauffeur; two sisters with their respective husbands; and a lawyer and his wife. Silliness ensues.
La Banda dei Babbi Natale (2010) – $29.1 million
It’s Christmas and three guys dressed as Santa Clauses are arrested. The police accuse them of being a notorious group called the “Santa Clause Robbers”. The three deny all involvement and try to explain how they ended up in the situations each of them was found in.
Natale a Beverly Hills (2009) – $29.9 million
A woman runs into the man who left her when she was pregnant with their child. The child is now 17 and has a different father figure in his life. Circumstances bring the former couple closer than they are comfortable with. Also, there is a beautiful lifeguard who is about to get married. After a drunken night out with friends, she wakes up in a different man’s bed…
Natale a Rio (2008) – $36.1 million
A guy who’s been in love with his pretty colleague for a long time thinks she’s invited him to come to Brazil with him. At the airport he realizes she’s going on the trip with her fiancé instead. But it’s too late to turn around… Also going to Brazil are two divorced dads in their fifties. What they don’t know is that their two sons are also headed that way. Due to a mix-up of the reservations, the sons end up with a luxury vacation and the dads with the backpacking crowd.
Natale in Crociera (2007) – $36.8 million
A womanizer uses his brother-in law’s suicide attempt as an excuse to spend time with his mistress aboard a beautiful cruise ship. Also party of the cruise are a nice veterinary lady and a macho author who have to play nice because they are both on the ship to be part of their friends’ wedding.
Do you see what I mean with guilty pleasure? These telenovela-style movies are hugely successful at the box office… even though supposedly nobody watches them. Now, off you go. It’s December. I think it’s time to get in the Christmas spirit and watch a cinepanettone or two. I won’t tell.
Are you in Italy this year? The make sure to check out my list of the best Christmas markets as well.