Italian writers in London - Luca Bianchini at London screening of 'La Cena di Natale'


Katie Webb, FUIS's new International Co-director in London, reports on Cinema Italia UK's screening of 'La Cena di Natale' in London on 5 December 2016.

As FUIS’s newly appointed International Co-director, on 5 December, I went along to a Festive sLuca Bianchini, writer and Katie Webb, International Co-director of FUIS, in Londoncreening of ‘La Cena di Natale’ written   by Luca Bianchini and Directed by Marco Ponti, to find out what Italians in London get up to. The event, which included a post-screening interview with Bianchini and a reception with Prosecco and Panettone, was bustling with Italians and Italian spirit. The evening was hosted by Cinema Italia UK, and The Italian Bookshop in London was also there, selling copies of Bianchini’s books, which he was signing.
Cinema Italia UK has existed since 2014, created by Clara Caleo Green, who was the Associate Director of the Italian Film Festival, and is Italian. It aims to give Italian contemporary films a permanent “home” in the UK, screening Italian films that wouldn’t usually be shown in UK cinemas at two London venues. Each event is made a special occasion, featuring a post-show discussion with the film’s creators and a reception afterwards where guests can mingle and enjoy Italian treats.
Luca Bianchini, writer of the original novel and the screenplay, was quite a character, leaping out of his seat and working the audience during the interview – giving his own performance! It was not his first time working with director Ponti, and the process of both writing the novel and making the film was more of a collaboration than two separate processes. Bianchini described the brotherly relationship he shares with Ponti. This means that they aren’t afraid to intervene in each others’ roles during the creative process, if one thinks the other has a better idea of how to do it. According to Bianchini it’s not very often the novelist can say no to the director, but Bianchini sometimes goes so far as to start behaving like the director. At this stage he gets put back in his place! After writing the novel, Ponti asked Bianchini to write the film script too. They’d often write together over gluten free lunches (Ponti being Gluten-free). Bianchini has a cameo role (with usually just one line) in each of the films he’s made with Ponti. He even listed them!

Film no. 1 – “Can I help you?”
Film no. 2 – “79”
Film no. 3 – “Straight on, on the right”
Film no. 4 – “How are you?”
Bianchini said the secondary characters are his favourite. In ‘La Cena di Natale’, it is the character of Daniela. Eva Riccobono, who played her, and lives in London, was also there for the event. The former model said she enjoyed being able to play a character that, although a small role, made an important point about pregnancy and gay couples. It showed that, if there’s love, families and children don’t have to be restricted to the conventional paradigms which are too often still seen as the only way to do things, especially in Italy where conservative attitudes tend to prevail. It wasn’t Riccobono’s first time working with Ponti either. She appreciates his encouragement of her comic talent as an actor, having previously felt type cast as ‘serious’ and ‘beautiful’ characters because of her persona as a model.

Screening of 'La Cena di Natale' by Cinema Italia UK, in London 5 December 2016

The film was set in the South of Italy, although the writer is from Turin. Educating the non-Italians in the audience, Bianchini talked about the specific atmosphere in the South of Italy - especially provincial life outside main towns – the characteristics of which were a constant reference in the film and would have made more sense to the Italians in the audience who are familiar with the clichés.  He ‘found’ the story in Puglia, a setting which had also inspired his earlier novel Lo che amo solo te (2013), inspired by a wedding he was unexpectedly invited to by the bride (who he had never met before). He described it as unlike any ceremony he had been to.  La Cena di Natale (2013), published later that year, features the same location and characters. He didn’t immediately think of it for the setting of a novel but found the provincial life he discovered very interesting, its features – such as the fact that the rich people in a small town have to show off – being common not just to the provinces of the South of Italy but to small-town communities everywhere.
The film was shot mainly around Puglia, in Polignano in Bari, and most of the sets were real houses.
Bianchini was happy to see so many people at the screening in London, and that there was lots of laughter. He has seen the film shown in four different cities and likes observing how it is perceived differently in each one.
On his writing in general, Bianchini said, never do something people expect. For example, the kinds of relationships he portrays in his writing are often seemingly impossible. His next book will be about the love between two people in their sixties. He said the secret is to write when you are inspired and to write about what you like – don’t think about the audience – it’s a like a party – you have to provide surprises!
How did La Cena di Natale come about? Bianchini doesn’t like sequels…although this was linked to his earlier novel Lo che amo solo te. It was Ponti’s suggestion that he write about a Christmas dinner, so he did. His publisher was happy. He didn’t plan a movie, but people liked the last one, so he made another.
Having talked with such passion and enthusiasm about his film, the interviewer Sarah Pennachhi, an Italian living in London who works in film production, concluded that the real character of the movie was the writer. His reputation preceded him, having been the star of the night in Rome, where the film premiered.
After the show, I talked with the people involved in making the event happen: Sarah Pennacchi, who had interviewed Bianchini and Riccobono, Clara Caleo Green, co-founder of Cinema Italia UK and superb host for the evening, and representatives from the Italian Bookshop in London, as well as Luca Bianchini himself. They were delighted to hear about FUIS’s new presence in London.

Katie Webb, International Co-director (London), FUIS, Monday 6 December 2016

Screening of 'La Cena di Natale' in London, 5th December by Cinema Italia UK, post-screening interview with writer and actor