Italy in 2022 made several landmark strides in the international entertainment arena: an Italian play, Stefano Massini’s “The Lehman Trilogy,” garnered five Tony Awards, a prize the country had never conquered; Roman rock band Måneskin scored a Grammy nomination; and even as domestic box office plunged this year, Italian film exports mushroomed.
Massini’s five-hour play, which follows the three Lehman brothers from their arrival from Germany in New York in 1844 up to the 2008 bankruptcy of their global financial services company, prompted Sam Mendes to stage an English-language adaptation, which ultimately triumphed at the Tonys. Now a high-end TV series based on his play is being developed by producers Domenico Procacci and Lorenzo Mieli with Florian Zeller (“The Father, “The Son”) attached to direct. Procacci, speaking to Variety, praised Massini for managing “to tell so effectively a story that doesn’t have any Italian elements, since most of it takes place in the U.S.”
The same can be said about Luca Guadagnino’s cannibal romancer “Bones and All,” starring Timothée Chalamet and Taylor Russell as “eaters” who become lovers on a road trip across 1980s America. Guadagnino’s first U.S.-set film, which won two prizes in Venice before going on to make a splash elsewhere around the world, was praised by Venice chief Alberto Barbera for being “a film about America that manages to say things about the U.S. that even American directors have been unable to say.”
“International” is becoming the Italian film industry’s mantra. Even though ticket sales at local movie theaters, estimated to clock 45 million admissions in 2022, are down more than 50% compared to the pre-pandemic year of 2019 – when they reached the 100 million mark – the head of Italy’s motion picture association Francesco Rutelli recently trumpeted figures showing that Cinema Italiano exports have more than doubled in recent years. While Italy exported only 52 movies in 2017, the number of Italian titles distributed around the world more than doubled to 118 titles in 2021 and that number is continuing to rise, he said. Italian films coming soon to U.S. theaters include Emanuele Crialese’s Penelope Cruz-starrer “L’Immensità” and male bonding drama “The Eight Mountains” — the latter of which really reflects the country’s international mindset. Though directed by Belgian duo Felix van Groeningen and Charlotte Vandermeersch, “Eight Mountains” is an entirely Italian-language film produced by Italy’s Wildside. Both titles will be launching Stateside in January from Sundance.
But when it comes to Italian artists making a U.S. breakthrough, no one in 2022 came close to Måneskin.
Since winning the Eurovision trophy 18 months ago, the four Roman rockers have been taking over the world with their raw talent, swagger and unfiltered sex appeal. In 2022 they became the first Italian group to win the prize for best alternative video at the MTV Video Music Awards and also scored an American Music Award for favorite rock song for their cover of “Beggin’,” originally recorded by the Four Seasons. Måneskin also opened for The Rolling Stones in Las Vegas prior to embarking on their first North American tour, reached 25 million Spotify users, and nabbed a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist, to name some of their other career milestones this year.
And for those who think Måneskin is just a vacuous Gucci-clad glam rock band, don’t forget that they stood up for Ukraine by writing “We’re Gonna Dance on Gasoline,” which opened their first Coachella set, with frontman Damiano David yelling “Fuck Putin!” on the Mojave stage in the middle of the new song.
In late September, when Giorgia Meloni and her Brothers of Italy party, which has neo-fascist roots, emerged as big winners in the country’s national elections, Damiano in an Instagram post commented: “Today is a sad day for my country.”
Coincidentally, around the same time that Meloni took the country’s helm, cameras started rolling at the revamped Cinecittà Studios on the Sky TV drama “M,” which chronicles Benito Mussolini’s rise to power, directed by Britain’s Joe Wright.
“Joe fell in love with the screenplays because it’s not [just] about Italy,” producer Lorenzo Mieli told Variety. And the type of narrative he chose is “a very contemporary pop opera about Mussolini, who is the inventor of what we call populism today, not just of fascism,” he added, noting that Mussolini is the man from whom populist politics first germinated. But populism, Mieli warns, has now become an evil that “has intoxicated the entire West, not just Italy.”
Be that as it may, the fact that Wright, who helmed Winston Churchill drama “Darkest Hour” – which earned Gary Oldman an Oscar for his portrayal as the British prime minister – has now changed historical sides to direct this show that Mieli describes as “a mix between the original ‘Scarface’ and [experimental 1929 Soviet silent documentary] ‘Man With a Movie Camera’ by Dziga Vertov,” with elements of 1990s British rave culture and a score by The Chemical Brothers, says something. It makes “M” another part of a picture that symbolizes the cosmopolitan zeitgeist permeating Italian pop culture these days.