DISMEMBERCEMBER: Regalo di Natale (1986)

Starting around 1983, cinepanettoni movies started to be released every Christmas in Italy. The name means cinema and panettone, a sweet bread traditionally given during the season. A lot of these movies are about Italian families abroad getting into hijinks. The holidays — just as over here — are a great time for people to get out of the house and into theaters.

If you’ve only seen his films Arcane Sorcerer, Nine Deaths a Week, Zeder and The House with the Laughing Windows, you may not think director and writer Pupi Avati is someone filled with the Christmas spirit. Yet he made this, a film in which Christmas night is spent amongst a group of former friends — Gabriele (Alessandro Haber), Stefano (George Eastman), Ugo (Gianni Cavina) and Franco (Diego Abatantuono) — who get back together after years of distrust. They want to be friends again but are unsure how to do it. Perhaps ripping off the rich and mysterious Avvocato Santelia (Carlo Delle Piane)  in a game of poker is the way to make their lives come back together.

Each of them is at a bad place in their lives. Gabriele is tired of his newspaper job and just wants enough money to be able to write about what he really loves, the films of John Ford. Stefano is struggling to keep up his heterosexual ruse but truly loves men. Ugo is divorced and ugly at love. Only Franco is rich enough to get Santelia to play a game of poker. However, he’s now the owner of a cinema and doesn’t want anything to do with Ugo. His secret is that his life seems rich and powerful on the outside but he must answer to so many people. Money could help. Can’t it always? Uggo promises that he will make up for a past slight to Ugo, who still doubts his former associate.

Franco and the lawyer are the ones in the lead as the game begins and as we see the cards play, we also learn what happened in the past: Franco’s first wife Martina — the only woman he has loved — made love to Uggo. As the stakes go higher, the true reasons for the evening will become known.

This was so popular that in 2014, Avati made a sequel, La rivincita di Natale, with the same cast. That film even has a scene that discusses the Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian, the work of art that The House with the Laughing Windows is based on.

It’s so odd to see a smiling ladykiller George Eastman in this movie, playing cards instead of doing what he’s better known for, ripping into a woman’s stomach and eating her unborn baby.


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