The Cinepanettone/ The Italian Christmas Film: issues of identity and the grotesque body

This article is a reflection upon a lecture that I witnessed this week by Alan O’Leary from the University of Leeds, regarding the Cinepanettone or the Italian Christmas Film. The Cinepanettone films are released during the Christmas vacation period, hence its conception as the Italian Christmas film. I also do not profess to being an ‘expert’ within this sphere of Italian cinema, beyond the waves of neo-realism that emerged in the post-war state of Italy. Within the field of film studies, the Cinepanettone films do not pertain to the ‘typical’ areas of academic consideration, such as filmic opuses that derive from art-house cinema circuits, but these films instead adhere to a ‘popular’ discourse of Italian cinema.

The protagonists at the centre of the film’s narrative and at the axiom of the films produced within this ‘genre’ pertain to the carnivalist grotesque corpus (in Bakhtinian terms), which relates to the incomplete body: a body that is constantly in a state of flux, evolution or in Deleuzian terms, becoming.

The grotesque body as a body in a constant state of becoming is approached and presented in various ways in relation to the Cinepanettone films. For example, the grotesque female corpus is screened as being subjected to rigorous forms of plastic surgery. The enhanced female body is thus in a state of evolution, enhancement and modification in pursuit of a form of ‘perfection’. The grotesque form is also manufactured in a male state within this corpus of films through the vomiting and the sodomized heterosexual male body. Furthermore, the presence of the transsexual body on screen also perpetuates this notion of the grotesque, since it represents a liminal body that exhibits both male and female characteristics at the same time. The body has therefore been subjected to a form of change, evolution and enhancement, which further conforms to the Bahktinian construct.

The notion of the ‘carnival’ refers to a festival that is participated in by the community and requires the suspension of norms and typical priorities. The ‘carnival’ mobilises against the humourless seriousness of official culture. Furthermore, the space of the cinema also adheres to this concept and idea of the ‘carnival’, since, through the screening of a cinepanettone film, it becomes a space for laughter and suspension from norm conventions.

The characters derive from different regional Italian backgrounds, such as Milanese, Roman and Sicilian, which all inflect dialectical regional features. This use of dialects and linguistic features therefore formulates highly marked regional characters to the spectator. This thereby highlights how fragile the notion of national identity, within the Italian context, truly is.

The regional background and thus notions of self-identity are asserted through an encounter with the Other. By positing the Self against the Other, the borders of one’s self-identity are re-affirmed. This may be addressed in a plethora of different ways, such as positing the Self against homosexual, black or even more generally ‘foreign’ characters, such as American. The presence of the Other for the characters in this genre of films reinforces notions of self-identity. The characters therefore are required to negotiate the introduction of difference.

Finally, In my opinion, the inclusion of dialectical and regional differences nuances the notion of a national identity, and adheres to the encouragement of transnational and local modes and forms of identification, which are proliferated by European political projects, such as the European Union and its Europe of the regions mantra. The regional differences are manufactured and highlighted through the inclusion of other regional characters with their own particularities and peculiarities at a level of dialectal differences. This thereby reinforces the presence of a synchronic model at the axiom of notions of identity. The grotesque body also highlights the evolution of notions of identity in a postmodern sphere, which, as Baumann postulates, is not predicated upon fixity, but rather avoids it. The modification and enhancement of the body within this corpus of works, reinforces the fluidity and shifting nature of identity politics. The desire and need to modify and change your body, in some of these instances, suggests the inflection of the postmodern condition upon the populations of Italy, but also of Europe as well. I hope this has been of interest.

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One response to “The Cinepanettone/ The Italian Christmas Film: issues of identity and the grotesque body

  1. Dear Jamie – thanks for this response to my work – I was alerted to it when a student quoted you in an essay! I think you develop my ideas useful and suggestive ways in the final paragraph.

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