baleanoptera: (Historical Buzzing sensation)
[personal profile] baleanoptera

I'll admit to being relieved that the nationalistic and "patriotic" Italian film about Barbarossa tanked at the box office. Like most normal people I'm not overly fond of jingoistic, discriminating films, and I'm hard pressed to see why the world needs another one of those.

Still, I've researched Barbarossa-symbolism in the past, and so a tiny part of me is fascinated by the Redbearded Emperor still being symbolically potent so to speak. Albeit in this film Barbarossa is clearly the villain, as opposed to the 19th Century German version with all his pseudo-religious trimmings.

Northern Italy's battle cry flops at the box office

Silvio Berlusconi backed it as a celebration of northern Italian pride. The leader of Italy's most outspoken anti-immigrant political party appeared in it. And the state television network, Rai, partly paid for it. But despite the hype, a ¤19m (£17m) price tag and a host of star names, the first attempt to produce a "patriotic" film for Italians living north of Florence has turned out a box-office disaster and the catalyst for an unseemly political row.

Barbarossa (Redbeard), stars Rutger Hauer as the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick I, who unsuccessfully fought the clans of northern Italy in the 12th century. Cécile Cassel, the sister of actor Vincent, plays his wife, Beatrix.

As an epic tale of derring-do and heroic defiance by Milanese rebels, the film's plot was seen by the Northern League – which dreams of establishing a breakaway country in the north called Padania – as a 139-minute party political broadcast. The league's leader, Umberto Bossi, even plays a cameo role and influential supporters of the Padania project provided much of the financial backing for the biggest Italian historical epic to be produced in 40 years.

Then it all started to go wrong. The film depicts the defeat of Frederick I at the epic battle of Legnano by forces led by Alberto da Giussano, a famed Milanese blacksmith. Da Giussano is one of Bossi's heroes, as he made clear, leaving no one in any doubt that he saw a contemporary parallel. "In Alberto da Giussano," he said, "I recognise and relive the spirit that moves a nation to risk its life to win its rights and its liberty."

Combining opposition to immigration with disdain for rule from Rome – by officials likened by Bossi to Barbarossa's henchmen – Bossi recently threatened to form a line of northerners along Italy's Po river to keep out foreigners. It was a stunt typical of the aggressive populist style that won him 8.3% of Italy's vote at last year's election and a seat in Berlusconi's cabinet. But Bossi is not so experienced in the politics of cinema.

An uncomfortable Cassel has already expressed her discomfort with the film's not-so-hidden agenda. "I knew nothing of the political ghosts behind Barbarossa," she said, adding she would have reconsidered taking the part if she had. The film's director, Renzo Martinelli, immediately retaliated by saying that Cassel, "like many French people, has an enormous sense of self-importance".

Cassel was notable by her absence from Barbarossa's premiere this month, at which Bossi told the assembled audience: "This is the dawn of a reawakening." Emerging from the screening, Berlusconi described the medley of battle cries and thundering hooves as "bellissima".

But in its opening weekend Italy's cinemagoers disagreed, deserting Barbarossa and flocking to Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds, which took ¤1.8m compared with only ¤441,000 for the Italian epic.

By the end of last week, the magazine L'Espresso was wondering aloud whether the film would prove to be the biggest flop in the history of Italian cinema. Even in the Northern League stronghold of Erba in Lombardy, a mere handful of card-carrying party members showed up for the film's first night. One local paper asked pointedly: "If the Lombards don't go and see it, who will?" Audiences in the Italian south have been, to say the least, disappointing.

"Looking at the low midweek sales in the run-up to its second weekend, I would say word of mouth has been non-existent and Barbarossa will do a million in total sales," said Roberto Chicchiero, head of Italian box-office analysts Cinetel. "That's not even enough to cover the government funding it received."

According to historian Franco Cardini, the film also gets its history wrong. The heroic Milanese rebels besieged by Barbarossa in the film were themselves the chief aggressors in the region pushing their neighbours around, he claimed. And the German army, he said, was joined in the siege by plenty of willing locals.

The financial backing of the project by Rai, the state television network, has also been questioned, given Bossi's ambitions for the new breakaway state of Padania. It appears that the role of Berlusconi, whose own business empire had its beginnings in Milan, was crucial in securing the money. "Bossi is really on at me… about this Barbarossa," Berlusconi told a Rai manager whose phone had been wiretapped in a corruption investigation.

"Barbarossa is all organised," replied the manager. Apart from showing in cinemas, Barbarossa will also be shown as a 200-minute mini-series on Rai.

Director Martinelli has shrugged off the political row, claiming: "I am a director, if the film gives you an emotion, that's it – all the rest doesn't matter to me."

But even on that score it seems that the pet project of Bossi and his fellow Padanian patriots has failed to convince. One cinema-goer leaving Barbarossa in Rome said on Friday: "With the swirling violins, the fighting and the constant cries for liberty, it's like spending two hours inside Bossi's brain."

Citet from here

If you're interested in what all the fuss is about the trailer can be found here:

Sadly, I've only found a trailer in Italian without subtitles - but the dialogue is pretty standard. In fact I'd say you could guess most of what is being said, including Barbarossa declaring that the city of Milan will be a tomb for its defenders. And the endless cries for "Liberta!" hardly needs translation.
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