Porto Buio, a small island in the Mediterranean, is home to an annual Christmas Nativity play, a massive tourist attraction for the isolated community. But this year, the child supposedly playing Jesus has grown up and no longer fits in the manger. What’s worse, a child has not been born on the island for years. With the Nativity in jeopardy, a Baby Jesus must be found. At the same time, there is a rivalry between the Tunisian and Catholic communities that both inhabit the island. Cecco (Claudio Bisio), the newly appointed mayor of the island, has been elected to bring the communities together. He meets with an old friend and converted Muslim now living in the Tunisian community, Bilal (Alessandro Gassman), and proposes to “borrow” a Muslim child for the play. Outrage and comedy ensues, from both sides, as Cecco tries desperately to meet the demands of Bilal and his wife Aîda (Nabiha Akkari), in order to secure the baby, while trying to placate Suor Marta (Angela Finocchiaro), who fears for the Catholic tradition of the play.
Messy Christmas (Non ćè più religion) is part of the 18th Lavazza Italian Film Festival, from Luca Miniero, director of Welcome To The South (LIFF11) and Welcome To The North (LIFF12). This film is original, charming and surprisingly contemporary given the ancient nature of the culture, landscape and story. Visually spectacular, it feels at times like a meditation on the beauty of the island and its community. Despite this, the film’s humour is fast-paced, well-timed, and clever. What do you do when the Baby Jesus is too fat for his manger, the ox is actually a llama (a “pre-ox?”) and the Madonna’s converted to Buddhism? This is a film that doesn’t take itself (or religion) seriously, at a time when we seem increasingly serious about it. And it pays off, creating a film in which a Catholic nun, a converted Muslim and a politician can frolic together in the waters of the Mediterranean. Bisio, Gassman and Finocchiaro have a natural comedic energy between them and make for a complex and endearing performance beneath the light-hearted banter.
Messy Christmas successfully marries the old and the new in its modern retelling of a very old story – a beautiful and inspiring melting pot of cultures, races and religions brought together by a story that unites them all (albeit in different ways, and with slightly different versions). I rate this film 8/10.
The 18th Lavazza Italian Film Festival runs from 21st September to 11th October and screens at Cinema Paradiso and Luna SX. Check out www.