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Evarist Bartolo

Ragoniere Ugo Fantozzi: A tragedy, a comedy and a work of art

Despite all these problems, the perseverance of the Italian people is second to none. Just like Ugo Fantozzi, despite all the woes and misfortune, they wake up every day with a sense of positivity

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Evarist Bartolo
12 July 2017, 7:28am
Beyond the slapstick comedy, there was profound social and political commentary in Paolo Villaggio work
Beyond the slapstick comedy, there was profound social and political commentary in Paolo Villaggio work
Paolo Villaggio will always be remembered as the clumsy accountant ‘Il Ragionere Ugo Fantozzi’. Forever the unfortunate victim, his path was filled with catastrophes and disappointments. He was an icon of his time, and his work lives on, being enjoyed by new generations.

Italians loved him, of course, but he also has a space reserved in the hearts of the Maltese. Programming on television, in the 70s and 80s, was quite limited and local households depended on content coming through from Italian stations. Fantozzi was one of the stars.

Beyond the slapstick comedy, there was profound social and political commentary in his work. There lay the truth which was often seen, but not heard. It depicted a declining Italy which was controlled by the powerful and authority, with no room for individuality. “Il megadirettore clamoroso della megaditta” was a common reference to whoever was the boss in Fantozzi’s workplace. It was a verbal exaggeration to explain the all-consuming reverence of authority. Fantozzi was the little fish, forever losing. In many ways, the portrayal of Villaggio’s character was a symbol of a population which was let down badly by politicians and big business throughout the years.

Italy is one the most beautiful countries. Its culture is unparalleled. The music, the cuisine, the art and the literature are truly special. La Bella Vita and all that. When we talk about the need to learn a third language, Italian is often our choice. Wherever you look, there’s beauty.

However the levels of poverty and social woes are shocking. It’s a country of haves and have nots. The divide couldn’t be more clear than between the northern and southern parts. Organised criminality is still strong, albeit at a lower profile when compared to the public warfare of the past. This usually means that things are moving smoothly, rather than being eradicated. In Italy, ageing businessmen (and it is mostly men) still rule.

Levels of inequality are among Europe’s highest. Not enough progress has been made since Villaggio’s portrayals. A country with so much potential and beauty is struggling to move forward. Many left the country for greener pastures, mostly the UK and Germany. The smartest and most talented graduates packed their bags and headed to far-flung places such as Silicon Valley in California. Some have made Malta their home. It’s a lesson for all countries that wealth needs to reach everyone. The alternative allows for social dilapidation. 

Despite all these problems, the perseverance of the Italian people is second to none. Take Sicily. What has this place not seen over the decades? But the people move on with their lives, with a smile on their faces. Just like a flower in the scorching Mediterranean August sun, the island refuses to lie down and die.

Just like Ugo Fantozzi, despite all the woes and misfortune, they wake up every day with a sense of positivity. Despite the catastrophes of the past, despite the malevolent authority figures and despite all the odds against them, they move on.

Villaggio’s character, just like Italy, is a tragedy, a comedy and a work of art all in one. With all its imperfections, there’s humanity beneath the surface. Goodbye Ragionere.

Evarist Bartolo is Minister of Education and Employment

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