The Italian Almanac

Massimo Boldi and Christian De Sica

Italian Movies - November 30

For the first time in two decades, the Italian public will not be able to get its annual fix of festive movie fun from its favourite comedy duo. Massimo Boldi and Christian De Sica are going head-to-head at the box office this Christmas after 20 years of Yuletide hits set in exotic locations ended last year amid rumours of a rift between the stars.

De Sica is presenting 'Natale a New York' (Christmas In New York), which is produced by the creator of the 'Natale...' film franchise, Aurelio De Laurentis. It stars popular Italian comics Claudio Bisio and Fabio De Luigi, alongside pin-up actresses Sabrina Ferilli and Elisabetta Canalis. Boldi's challenger, 'Ole', is set in Spain and made by rival producers Medusa. The cast includes Hollywood star Daryl Hanna.

Both films come out just before Christmas, on December 15, and are expected to rely on the tried-and-tested formula of hot babes, slapstick and raunchy humour that has regularly taken recent 'Natale a...' productions past the 20-million-euro mark. What is hard to predict is whether Boldi and De Sica have enough appeal to pull in the crowds separately.

Much of the popularity of the 'Natale a...' films, which often confounded cinema critics, was based on De Sica and Boldi's ability to make Italians laugh at their own faults and peculiarities. Their respective roles represented conflicting elements of Italy's national character. De Sica tended to play the girl-mad rascal who tries to cheat his way through life with his looks and guile. In this, his efforts often end in fiasco. Boldi, who is short and fat, usually played an upstanding member of society, someone who is honest but also a stickler for the rules and a little bossy.

The fear is that the duo's split may have broken the spell of success.