It’s strange to see that Fantozzi still hasn’t received the kind of worldwide acclaim that some other European comedies of the seventies have, and that Villaggio is still unknown to the wider public, unlike the French Tati. Villaggio’s comedy is smart, poignant slapstick that can in fact please intellectuals as well as a normal cinema goer looking for some easy laughs. All this could be achieved alone by the character of Fantozzi himself, who represents the middle, or White Collar Worker (which is also the English title for the movie), who is submissive and repressed, the kind of man who feels the weight of the world every day, and this comes through in the way that he speaks, always as if he had some sort of weight on his back. He is the kind of man who never admits to not feeling alright even when he is in obvious physical pain, he is the kind of man that ignores the pains of the ordinary life, tries to convince himself of what is not true, from the times he has to convince himself he has a beautiful wife and daughter before he actually looks at them, to the time when he admits with a childlike naivite that he has always wanted to catch a moving bus (in the sequence that was even admired by Marty Feldman and Mel Brooks, and you can see their influences in this film). He is also the kind of man that has no luck, and when he seems to have those rare lucky instances of happiness, he is followed by a black cloud that never hesitates to create a thunderstorm on him alone.
Fantozzi is a beloved Italian comedy in the history of Italian comedies that made a star out of Paolo Villaggio, whose biting satirical comedic nature is never really obvious in this movie, but at the same time, sets up firm solid ground for the kind of character that would have been destined to a continuation in sequels to come (the second too is worth taking a look at, especially for those who liked this one). The man who gets most of the credit should be Villaggio, whose books and whose character this film is based upon; not only is he Ragionier Fantozzi, he also made him (or should I say himself). Paradoxically, the character is so strong itself that it could never have seemed acceptable to have built a deductive storyline around him, it would only have choked the life out of him. In his figure of the white collar worker, the Italian working class audience of the seventies found its ideal representation.
The way it is brought to the screen does not disappoint. There is this dream/nightmare like quality that makes everything much top exaggerated to believe, in the true tradition of Italian comedy, where the early theatre before Pirandello was interpreted by masked figures (like Harlequin for instance). The characters of this movie, primary and secondary, do not wear masks, but they might as well be. The glam co-worker, the sexual desire of Fantozzi (although in reality she is not so good looking at all, but it seems like she embodies the most that the working class can aspire too, the dream that can be realised), the ugly old-fashioned submissive wife, even the president of the company, which at the end of the movie Fantozzi gets to meet, and turns out to be everything that the rumours and jokes have him portrayed as, in the best sequence of the movie. Everything is exaggerated, almost as if it were children playing the part of the adults during one of their games. To achieve this kind of feeling, director Luciano Salce uncerimoniously takes the liberty of speeding up and slowing down the film.
Italy made some good comedies in the seventies. That is because Italy loves comedy films, to the point that they often beat the major American blockbusters at the box office, to the point where much too many are produced, and it is getting harder and almost impossible to see which ones are the good ones and which ones are the bad ones. Fantozzi, in that sense, is a great movie disguised as a bad movie; it is the ultimate paradox, the juxtaposition of the representation and the farce, the neo-realist drama and the slapstick exaggeration of the earliest of silent comedy keystone shorts. No doubt about it, Italian people will continue to watch Fantozzi for generations to come, but its internationally accessible nature should make this of interest to other countries as well.
WATCH FOR THE MOMENT – Fantozzi meets the president of the company.