Monday, 15 October 2012

Film Comedy and Migration

Monica Boria recently discussed her research on 'Contemporary Italian Film Comedy and Migration' at the International Society of Humor Studies conference in Krakow (June 2012). 

In her paper, she explored how, over the last twenty years the recurrent label of ‘Italian cinema of migration’ has been used to refer to those films that engage with migration to Italy, a phenomenon which has increasingly preoccupied Italian society since the 1980s. Italian filmmakers have predominantly adopted a realist approach and sombre tone, however, in the last few years, a more nuanced spectrum of genres and modalities have emerged, with comedy on the rise. In contrast with the realist films, these comedies appear to revolve mostly around Italian identities, which the juxtaposition with the immigrant ‘other’ makes stand out with ridicule. In reality, the picture is much more complex and what emerges from initial analyses of a body of approximately 15 films, is that the comedy mode, whether predicated on some national ‘filoni’ (such as popular comedies and ‘commedia all’italiana’) or hybrid genres (like comedy-drama, comedy musical) has produced mixed results. In some instances it has allowed directors to tread on new grounds successfully, in others it has made humour implode.


One of the questions she has addressed is how migration is represented through the lenses of humour and whether this mode has allowed for new visions and discourses to emerge. It is often said that comedy can allow directors to venture into grounds which would otherwise be off-limits. For some of these films this indeed appears to be the case: with Cose dell’altro mondo/Things from another world (2011) director Francesco Patierno has attracted fierce criticism from politicians of the separatist Northern League party for his portrayal of provincial northern Italy as openly racist. Gennaro Nunziante’s Che bella giornata/What a beautiful day (2011) satirizes on the alleged threat posed by Islam to Italy’s culture. Another aspect to consider is what kind of humour is employed and who is laughing at/with whom. Is, for instance, the humour surrounding the illegal Egyptian builder in Claudio Cupellini’s Lezioni di cioccolato/Chocolate Lessons (2007) a typical example of ethnic humour? Or is it in fact, in the story’s reversal of roles between employer and employee, a light satire of Italian sleazy business practices and decadent lifestyle? 


Finally, has the unprecedented presence of the immigrant on the scene of Italian comedy affected the mechanisms of the production of humour? In many comedies of the past the foreigner, with its tentative Italian and lack of awareness of Italian codes of conduct, often served as a trigger of quid-pro-quos and verbal humour that only served to bring forward a re-assertion of Italy’s values and identity (for example the cunning Italian vs the gullible American tourist). Is this kind of superiority humour employed in the new context offered by migration comedies?

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