Not unlike the turducken or its charmless cousin the cthurkey, the Italian film genre known as cinepanettone brings together fine individual parts—cinema and panettone, in this case—that when united spawn a monstrosity. While on the whole I find Italians ‘do Christmas’ well, striking a reasonable balance of tradition, religion, family, and commercial madness, the intrusion of this superbly tacky cultural phenomenon into the holiday season is something I’ve never really understood. Back in the first flush of my love affair with Italy, one of the factors contributing to my desire to know this country up-close and personal was Neorealismo; so you might well imagine my dismay when, about year into my Italian life, I discovered that Christian de Sica, son of one of the greats of the Neorealist movement, was a founding member of the travesty known as cinepanettone!
These films come out at Christmastime—hence the name association with the Italian Christmas cake panettone—and turn more or less on the same recycled plot within a Christmas-vacation setting. The formula, going strong and inexplicably successful since the first of the genre was released in 1983, often involves couples in crisis or ridiculous circumstances. The backdrop is usually a snowy ski haven or a tropical resort. Stereotypes and cleavage are never wanting.
Let’s turn our attention to the better half of cinepanettone. An infamously time-demanding cake to prepare, panettone is a fluffy-buttery-spongy tall cake filled with candied fruits (the type of fruit changes from region to region). Like so many Italian treats, panettoni really are an art form. Have a look here and here to get an idea (in Italian) of the work required to make one from scratch, then go out and buy yourself one at an Italian bakery or specialty shop. Italians eat panettone throughout the season and into the celebrations around the New Year and the Feast of the Epiphany. In fact, traditionally the last of the season’s panettone is eaten on Saint Blaise’s feast day, February 3. So one need not feel that after Christmas day panettone is off the menu, by any means.