Thursday 21 September 2017

Italian Film Festival - Barrie Pattison reviews MESSY CHRISTMAS (Non c'è più religione) (Luca Miniero, 2016)

Editor’s Note: Barrie Pattison is singlehandedly covering the waterfront of the local Italian Film Festival (and paying the inflated admission prices common to such events). You can find his earlier reports if you click on the following film titles After the War, I Can Quit Whenever I Want to: Masterclass and Let Yourself Go   

Director Luca Miniero and stars Claudio Bisio & Angela Finocchiaro have done pretty well out of Benvenuti al sud/Welcome to the South running to a sequel and  a French version with Danny Boon, so they decided to give the handle another turn. This time it's Non c'è più religione/Messy Christmas where Bisio is the mayor of the remote Mediterranean Island of Portobuillo to which he has returned after some kind of a failure in Brussels.

They have a problem. The declining population means that the youngest inhabitant is a chubby kid grown to the point where he crushes the nativity pageant crib at the rehearsal. Without the pageant the needed tourists won’t be interested and the place will decline even further and nobody fancies the idea of the standard issue plastic baby Jesus. So Bisio determines that he will recruit a baby from the adjacent community of “crab eater” Muslims, over the objections of the church congregation he keeps on interrupting.

Things get more complicated when he and resident nun Finocchiaro have to deal with barely recognisable Alessandro Gassman, with whom they used to be á trois (before Angela took her vows of course). Alessandro is now a Muslim convert leading to a swathe of cultural divergency jokes – (“don’t admire anything in their home or they will feel obligated to give it to you”), the giraffe statue and his scratchy false beard. The baby deal requires the islanders to observe Ramadan.

Non c'è più religione
This is backed by attractive Mediterranean scenery and a great comic cast. It sounds like lively and edgy fun and for a while it is but they can’t keep up the momentum. The routines become strained - simultaneous services in the shared church or the bishop, an aged Roberto Herlitzka no less, desperately making excuses for the irregularities in the Nativity scene are finally defeated when they ring in a Llama because they can’t find an Ox. The Muslim kids, seeing his robes decide he’s Santa Claus, foreshadowing the films nicest gag where they break out in “Santa Claus is coming to Town” with belly dancer choreography.

The personal material is better with Bisio, Finocchiaro and Gassman recalling their time together and Bisio’s teen age daughter Laura Adriani leaving Muslim boy Mehdi Meskar who holds up a farewell placard as her ferry pulls out. This all gets buried in the farcical complications.

By the time we get to a Ganesh statue in the dinghy, and the baby’s delivery, attention is wandering.

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