How does festive programming vary around the world?
EVEN IN THE age of streaming, the announcement of the Christmas schedule on terrestrial television is met with excitement. It is a time of year when friends and families gather round the set, glass of mulled wine or fizz in hand, and watch something together: last year a special festive episode of “Gavin and Stacey”, a sitcom, became the most-watched scripted show in Britain in a decade. Broadcasters usually put together a mix of new fare, highlights shows and old classics to get viewers in the spirit. It is inevitable that, in Britain and America, “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946), “White Christmas” (1954), “Elf” (2003) or “Love Actually” (2003) will feature in the line-up in the countdown to Christmas.
What about elsewhere in the world? Period dramas are a must on the schedules of Swedish and German channels. Swedes’ favourite at Yuletide is “Fanny and Alexander” (1982, pictured), directed by Ingmar Bergman. It begins with one of the most evocative Christmas celebrations ever filmed as the titular siblings enjoy a meal with their mother, Emilie, and father, Oscar. The merriment becomes the stuff of nostalgia after Oscar’s sudden death and, though the children suffer at the hands of a new puritanical step-father, they prevail in the end. Germans, meanwhile, watch “Sissi” (1955) in which Romy Schneider played the Austrian princess who captured the heart of the emperor Franz Joseph. The film is a fairy-tale rooted in real life, involving the same royal pageantry which British viewers may recognise from their own ritual watching of the queen’s Christmas broadcast.
For Italians, Advent would be incomplete without the farces known as cinepanettone (named after the sweet bread traditionally eaten at this time of year). Often starring an ensemble of Italian stars, cinepanettone are cheerful, crude and absurd, focusing on the sex lives of their characters while on their Christmas break. The tradition began with “Vacanze di Natale” (“Christmas Holidays”) in 1983, which followed the romantic entanglements of an upper-crust family from Milan and a coarse one from Rome. It was a hit at the box office, spawning sequels in 1990, 1991, 1995 and 2000 and similar stories set in far-flung places. This year Neri Parenti, a stalwart of cinepanettone, will release “In vacanza su Marte” (“On Vacation on Mars”). Critics loathe the genre—one compared the films to a filthy scrawl on the wall of a train-station toilet—but it endures all the same.
France’s festive film of choice is also a comedy, though one with much darker undertones. “Le Père Noël est une ordure” (“Santa Claus is a Stinker”), a play which was adapted into a film in 1982, follows Pierre and Thérèse, two volunteers at a suicide-prevention helpline, on their tumultuous Christmas Eve shift. The film appeals to Gallic irreverence and delights in blowing a hearty secular raspberry at the sentimentality of Christmas. So popular is the film that Nora Ephron and Delia Ephron wrote an English-language remake in 1994, but it was panned by critics and made a substantial loss at the box office.
A firm favourite in Russia and the former Soviet republics is an adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy-tale “The Snow Queen” (1957), directed by Lev Atamanov and Nikolay Fyodorov and featuring glorious hand-drawn animations. More surprising is the popularity of “The Irony of Fate” (1976), a three-hour-long comedy which follows the plight of Zhenya, a young Muscovite doctor. After a drunken party in a bathhouse with his friends, Zhenya finds himself in Leningrad: the joke is that, given the uniformity of Russian architecture, the protagonist doesn’t notice. Though the film is subversive—implying that individuality has been subsumed by bland anonymity—it slipped past the censors, at least until Mikhail Gorbachev took charge. The Soviet leader saw the film as encouraging alcoholism and had it banned, a prohibition that was as doomed to failure (videotapes were already available) as his abstinence campaign.
Some countries, however, opt for English-language films at Christmas. As well as cinepanettone, Italians enjoy “Una poltrona per due”, as they call “Trading Places” (1983). Swedes may watch Disney cartoons. “Little Lord Fauntleroy”, a children’s novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett, set in New York in the late 19th century, is beloved by Germans, too; Das Erste, a television channel, broadcasts an adaptation from 1980 every year. In Poland “Home Alone” (1990) gets an annual airing; in Estonia not only is “Die Hard” (1988) considered a bona fide Christmas film, but the whole series is shown on consecutive nights, starting on Christmas Eve.
Some of these films are critically acclaimed, but at Christmas the ritual is more important than the substance (the nostalgia and sense of continuity from one year to the next must be among the only reasons people still bother with “Love Actually”). Just as the purpose of Christmas pudding is not nutrition, and Christmas crackers are not pulled to provide stylish headgear, so festive movies are not chosen for their quality. They are for making and reliving shared memories—and slowly digesting all that turkey.
Author: | Post link: https://www.economist.com/prospero/2020/12/14/how-does-festive-programming-vary-around-the-world
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