Carlo and Enrico Vanzina’s The Taste of You was probably never meant for consumption outside of Italy. Part of a ‘cinepanettone’ tradition of light but disposable comedies that exist in some form for every nation, the traditions and references don’t translate to a foreign audience, making it a film best missed.
Reviewed by Drew Ninnis.
Director: Carlo Vanzina
Screenplay: Carlo Vanzina, Enrico Vanzina.
Runtime: 101 minutes.
Cast: Vincenzo Salemme, Maurizio Mattioli, Nancy Brilli, Serena Autieri.
Trailer: Don't even click. Move along.
Plot: Various families gather every year by the seaside to relax and unwind over summer; enjoying life, love, and wine. Set in the 1980s, this film follows a few tumultuous years, several love trianges, and more affairs than you can poke a stick at among its ensemble cast of characters. There’s a politician, football fanatic, an aspiring actor meets pool attendant, the locals, and many more in this Italian farce.
Festival Goers? Miss it.
Viewed as part of the Lavazza Italian Film Festival.
Review: I’m indebted to a fascinating article by Alan O’Leary of the University of Leeds for explaining to me just what the hell was going on with the film selections at this year’s Lavazza Italian Film Festival. In it he highlights the existence of a genre of Italian films derogatorily referred to as ‘Cinepanettone’ films; essentially, cheaply produced budget comedies that are usually shown at Christmas, and are sort of a family ritual at that time of year. The laughs are designed for every member of the family, meaning broad and sometimes slapstick jokes with a hint of the risqué for the adults. The situations are recognisable and absurd, and the comfort is in the familiarity rather than the originality. They are fluffy and disposable efforts, meant to be experienced at the cinema among an audience who know the conventions, and as a wave of laughter. Even the name is interesting – panettone is a type of light, sweet, fruit-laden cake generally eaten at Christmas or New Year, and meant as a light digestif after a heavy family meal.
That’s great information to have, because it also explains why the films have translated so poorly into the festival context in which they have been viewed this year. These are not Italian exports for international crowds; they are domestic products where the mode of consumption is actually more important than the content. O’Leary highlights that these films are much maligned by Italian critics and other cinemagoers, as there still exists within Italy a feeling of national cinema; a diplomatic role for the industry as worthy cultural products that present Italy to the world, and argue for the existence of Italian cinema – essentially the antithesis of cinepanettone films. It would be like assembling a festival of US cinema and putting something like Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master alongside Garry Marshall’s Valentine’s Day. Shame on you, Lavazza Italian Film Festival programmers. Shame on you.
A Taste of You may not quite fit into the seasonal category of cinepanettone, but it’s close. Another telltale sign is that it is produced by Medusa Films and Luigi de Lautentiis – common hands identified by O’Leary as making an industry out of this sort of film. You may have noticed that I’ve cunningly wasted the first two paragraphs of this review talking about something other than the film A Taste of You; that’s because there is not much to say about it. Written by brothers Carlo and Enrico Vanzina, it marks a commercial return to a disposable-comedy genre they pioneered several decades ago with Sapore di mare (Taste of the Sea). It’s also a literal return to the location of that film, being set in the seaside town of Forte dei Marmi and being concerned with the relaxation and amorous relationships of an ensemble of families. Nothing much happens within the plot itself, as it is simply a machine for romantic rendezvous, absurd misunderstandings, sunderings apart and inevitable reconciliation. The cast of characters includes a local politician, so that broad jokes can be made at the expense of his hypocrisy and need to maintain a respectable façade, a fanatical football fan with a heart of gold and his put-upon wife, the antics of a group of 17-20 year olds to appeal to that demographic and provide eye-candy, and finally a group of thirty-somethings dating older men and tangling with their wives.
Interestingly, in O’Leary’s article he quotes cinepanettone screenwriter Marco Martani as providing an explanation of the simultaneous feature of the films being stuffed full with incident and jokes, but strangely thin on message of meaning. O’Leary writes:
Thus the nature of the initial viewing context has consequences for the form of the text, which is distinguished by an unusually multiple address. This was made very clear by Marco Martani in his interview with us, when he made the epigrammatic suggestion that ‘il film di Natale, in realtà, fa divertire atutti ma non piace a nessuno’. What he meant by this is that the writers and director pack the various forms of comedy into their films, and even into individual scenes, in order to entertain everyone in the cinema, from the youngest child to the most discerning adult. The offer of a comic element for each taste tends sequentially to generate laughter from each segment of the audience, and the contagious effect of the laughter is such that it will tend to become universal and continuous. Martani speculates that the films might be less enjoyable when seen at home, when the viewer is more likely to pick and choose which bit he or she likes and be indifferent to the rest.
That’s a fascinating insight, and certainly explains the overstuffed but curiously empty feel of films like The Taste of You. There’s a cat called ‘Mao’ for the kids and plenty of slapstick; there’s a sexy love triangle of teens for the teens; there’s 80s nostalgia and soundtrack for the slightly older; tales of affairs and men who won’t leave their wives for those nearing forties but who don’t want to admit it; there’s the mid-life crises and put upon parents for the parents; and finally the folly of the human condition and the wisdom of the elderly for Nonna and co. It’s a fascinating way of building a film; unfortunately, it doesn’t create a particularly worthwhile viewing experience for audiences outside of the Italian viewing tradition, and that’s reflected in The Taste of You.
In short, to ridicule the absurdities and failings of this film would be beside the point. It is a fascinating cultural product, and again I am indebted to O’Leary for explaining it to me, clueless foreigner that I am. That said, I still can’t recommend festival audiences go see it; and I’d caution programmers from padding out the program with fare like this. It does smack of suckering your audiences in; and in the session I attended, quite a few unhappy customers walked out.
Rating: One star.