Review: The Legend of the Christmas Witch
by Vittoria Scarpa
- Paola Cortellesi plays a feminist Christmas Witch in Michele Soavi's festive offering, a film between gothic fairy tale and teen movie, penned by Nicola Guaglianone and co-produced with Spain
“He gets to travel in the comfort of a sleigh, he bags himself an amazing costume, he’s the brand ambassador for the most famous fizzy drink in the world...And me? Not so much as a laxative commercial! Chauvinists!”. Our Christmas Witch is proud, emancipated and she’s had enough of Father Christmas! It’s popular comic actress Paola Cortellesi (uncontested box-office-admissions champion last year, with Like a Cat on a Highway [+see also:
film profile]) who we see taking on a starring role this year in the festive film directed by Michele Soavi, The Legend of the Christmas Witch. An Italian-Spanish coproduction, the latest big screen offering from the director of The Goodbye Kiss [+see also:
film profile] is a gothic fairy tale for all the family. Initially following in the footsteps of the legendary old lady whose visit children across Italy eagerly await on 6 January, the film then switches into teen movie-mode, with a group of adventure-hungry youngsters taking centre stage.
As imagined by Nicola Guaglianone (They Call Me Jeeg [+see also:
interview: Gabriele Mainetti
film profile]) who wrote the screenplay, the Christmas Witch - or “the Befana” - is 500 years old, but by day she only looks about 40 and is a primary school teacher called Paola. On the stroke of midnight, she’s transformed back into her old, ugly self - remaining so until the break of day - and she heads down to her secret workshop where she wraps all the presents which will need to be handed out on that fateful night between the 5 and 6 January, where she does her exercises so as to keep herself in shape (how else would she fit down all those chimneys?), but, most importantly, where she keeps a safe distance from her boyfriend (Fausto Maria Sciarappa) who doesn’t understand why they can’t ever sleep together. When she’s abducted by Mr. Johnny (Stefano Fresi), an evil toymaker traumatised by the witch’s failure to deliver the gift he wanted as a child, hell-bent on revenge and determined to take the witch’s place in the hearts of children, it is Paola’s most faithful pupils - who have discovered her secret - who will ultimately try to rescue their teacher.
Combining 1980s teen cinema with popular Italian folklore is the stated aim of those behind this Christmas film, where six fearless, bike-riding kids embarking on the first big adventure of their lives brings back memories of childhood classics such as The Goonies and Gremlins, and the pint-sized actors belonging to the ragtag gang in action here are utterly charming and pleasingly multi-ethnic. With photography by Nicola Pecorini (the favoured collaborator of Terry Gilliam, who has worked on films such as The Man Who Killed Don Quixote [+see also:
interview: Terry Gilliam
film profile], The Zero Theorem [+see also:
interview: Terry Gilliam
film profile]and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus [+see also:
film profile]), visual effects from Chromatica Visual Effects and Inlusion Visual Studios, and the excellent scenography work (the film was shot on the slopes of the Alto Adige/South Tyrol and Monte Terminillo massifs in the Lazio region) combined with all the make-up and costumes, the film is impeccable from a formal point of view. Older viewers will especially enjoy Cortellesi and Fresi’s exchanges - with the latter taking on the unusual role of a somewhat ignorant, comic book villain, who can’t get his historical references or his subjunctives right, and who finds himself continually corrected by our teacher-heroine, Paola – not to mention the rereading of the witch as some sort of feminist superhero. The film is clearly aimed at quite a young audience (“there aren’t enough films made for children in Italy”, according to Cortellesi), though a slightly broader appeal might also have allowed older viewers to leave cinema auditoriums with a greater sense of satisfaction…
The Legend of the Christmas Witch is produced by Andrea Occhipinti for Lucky Red, with Rai Cinema in association with 3 Marys Entertainment, and is coproduced by Juan Gordon on behalf of Spanish outfit Morena Films. 450 copies of the film will be distributed by Universal Pictures and Lucky Red from 27 December. International sales are managed by True Colours.
(Translated from Italian)
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