Sixty-seven Italian titles (including co-productions) had their first release in Russian movie theatres in the year of Covid. But the number more or less doubles (to 133) when counting films previously distributed and offered again in 2020. The most widely viewed of them all was Donato Carrisi’s noir, “L’uomo del labirinto”, which sold 80,000 tickets. Following closely on its heels was Matteo Garrone’s version of “Pinocchio”, interpreted by Roberto Benigni. Also amongst the winners came “Cruel Peter”, the horror story set in Messina, in the style of a Gothic novel somewhere between British flair and Mediterranean atmosphere. Straight after it came the co-productions “J’accuse” (with France) and “Waiting for the Barbarians” (with the USA).
Browsing through the long list, it comes as no surprise to find arthouse movies – one example for all being “La grande bellezza” – but also, less expected, several comedies. In fact, as if to challenge the assumption that comedy cannot be exported, we find, for example, “Cetto c’è” or “L’ora legale”. Amongst the most recurrent typologies and one which never fails to please, emerges that of the evergreens, including “La dolce vita”, “Otto e mezzo” and “I vitelloni”, seen (again) in 2020 by over twenty-five thousand spectators, and the category of added content, containing a wealth of titles and genres.
The range extends from the so-called exhibition-based art films, like “Impressionisti segreti” devoted to the exhibition at Palazzo Bonaparte in Roma, to documentaries like “Mathera”, which introduce the world to iconic and evocative places in the Bel Paese, right up to monographs dedicated to the Italian masters who have always marked art history worldwide, from Michelangelo to Bernini, from Tintoretto to Canova, not forgetting Leonardo and Botticelli.
This varied range of Italian productions brought 360,000 Russian spectators into the cinemas. A lot? Only a few? In “normal times”, in 2019, the numbers were just half that, whilst the titles stopped at a grand total of 78. For once, the annus horribilis brings good news.
Especially when considering that it comes from the Continent’s leading market.
Since 2017 Russia has boasted the largest audiences, an honour traditionally reserved for the French market. But if the contest with France, historically Europe’s “number one”, was previously fought over a handful of spectators (in 2018, for example, 202 million compared to 201), in 2020 the situation is quite different: over 88 million in Russia, 65 in the Hexagon.
What has made the difference in this year suffering from Covid, has been mainly the number of days cinemas were kept open. Indeed, despite a situation that has not been homogeneous over the whole territory, and which experienced a first overall lockdown from 26 March to 15 July, followed by staggered re-openings and further temporary, local closures at the end of October, it is estimated that Russian cinemas were permitted to operate for around 70% of all the days in the year.
The situation in the competitor country was different: in France, according to the CNC, cinemas were open for 162 days, or just 44% of the total.