‘Bound to lose’: Paolo Villaggio’s Fantozzi – 10 of the best

A Maltese childhood in the 1980s and pre-Cable TV 1990s meant being brought up on Italian TV, for which the Fantozzi movie would be a highlight of the week

Paolo Villaggio’s Ugo Fantozzi and Gigi Reder’s Silvio Filini, both employees of the Megaditta
Paolo Villaggio’s Ugo Fantozzi and Gigi Reder’s Silvio Filini, both employees of the Megaditta

It is for sheer geographical caprice that a former British colony in the Mediterranean could still enjoy a convivial relationship with post-war Italy. Thanks to the medium of television, the Maltese could not evade the sorcery of Italian song and the annual Sanremo festival, or the charm of television veterans Pippo Baudo and Corrado Mantoni.

One of those staples was Paolo Villaggio, creator of anti-hero loser and working-class nobody Ugo Fantozzi, a character who belongs to the canon of comic idiots in film.

Those of us brought up watching TV through the RAI’s three channels and Mediaset’s Canale 5, Rete 4, and Italia 1 know what it felt like to expect a Fantozzi prime-time viewing. A cavalcade of buffoonery, nudge-nudge wink-wink soft-core, and endless charades to be acted out the next day at school.

Less well-known to Maltese fans was Villaggio’s political outing in the late eighties with Proletarian Democracy, having also been a communist party member.

1. The revolution against 'shit' Battleship Potemkin

At Fantozzi's workplace, a new director and film buff forces his underlings to abandon the Italy-England football match at home and watch a six-hour director's cut of Battleship Potemkin. As is typical of the Fantozzi canon, the lowly clerk is inspired by a spark of courage to revolt against the injustice of the director, before his stand-off against capital is thwarted only too easily by the police: yes, the metaphor speaks for itself.


2. Casino slave for Count Semeranza

Old money factory director Count Semeranza takes on Fantozzi as a third-class valet and dogsbody for his Monte Carlo gambling trip. Fantozzi vicariously obliges to serve the rich and powerful owners of the means of production, hoping it will bring him some sort of redemption.


3. Coppa Cobram cycling nightmare

A recurring theme in Fantozzi: maniacal directors of the 'megaditta' (mega-company) whose model of masculinity is shaped by athletic events. Fantozzi endures yet again as he submits to the wishes of those more powerful than he. But even when he tries to win, he is always bound to lose.


4. Fantozzi's daughter is pregnant

Fantozzi's ape-like daughter (played by Plinio Fernando) confesses she is pregnant, so the Fantozzi couple set out to demand that her lover, a postal-worker Lothario called Loris Battachi, make amends and marry Mariangela.


5. Fantozzi's night out on the tiles

Cajoled into going out to a nightclub to pick up escorts for workmates Calboni and Filini, Fantozzi is left with a massive bill to pay and finally, the taxi fare for 10 cabs ordered by Calboni as a grandiose finale to the night and also to give up his apartment so that Calboni can do the nasty.


6. Fantozzi's imprisonment at the health farm

A holiday with his workmates as usual does not turn out as expected. Fantozzi and Filini are diverted to a dungeon-like health farm where the sadistic director tortures Fantozzi with his Bavarian meatballs. Fantozzi fights back.


7. On board Barambani's yacht

Fantozzi and Filini are once again enrolled by their superiors to act as unpaid serfs - the stage is set for the hapless duo to perform thankless chores with disastrous consequence.


8. Fantozzi suffers the humilitation of his own anger

After magically writing in the sky that the company 'mega director is a right shit', Fantozzi is forced to humilitate himself by replacing it with his name, to the laughter of the entire company and his neighbours. Even in his justified umbrage, Fantozzi cannot win.


9. Cycling training goes wrong

Forced to leave the beloved car at home and satisfy the athletic whims of a newly-promoted director who is a cycling fanatic, Fantozzi veers off into his inevitable world of pain when the seat of his bicycle comes off. Slapstick humour ensues.


10. Fantozzi faces his wife's seducer

Italian actor Diego Abantantuono plays the baker's nephew who seduces Fantozzi's wife into a maniacal bread-buying spree. Fantozzi faces down the scoundrel, who is only letting his wife on for his humour.


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