Italy's greatest heir to the slapstick, Paolo Villaggio adapted it to the epic of
the frustrated alienated white-collar worker of the poor middle-class.
His anti-hero is the eternal loser, which turns out to be more similar to us than the
knights of the medieval epics.
Villaggio turned Paddy Chayefsky's melodrama and Italy's bleakest neorealism into comedy, a sort of Charlie Chaplin without the happy ending and without the moral tale.
Paolo Villaggio (Italy, 1932) debuted as a television comedian (notably with
the brutal character Professor Kranz) and acted in
Brancaleone alle Crociate (1970).
His book "Fantozzi" (1971) collected short stories about the misfortunes of
a humble working man
haunted by an extremely cruel destiny but also victim of his own willingness
to be exploited. The book became a bestseller (and a sort
of lumperproletariat epic in the Soviet Union) and was turned into successful
films: Fantozzi (1975)
and Il Secondo Tragico Fantozzi (1976), both directed by Luciano Salce, and co-scripted with Leonardo Benvenuti and Piero De Bernardi.
The former features the scene of Fantozzi's epic daily struggle to get to
work on time, the scene of the company's soccer match, the tennis match,
the billiard match with the company's owner,
and his vain courtship of a spinster colleague culminating in a fateful dinner
at a Japanese restaurant.
The latter boasts some of his best farcical skits: the launching of the ship,
the casino trip with the powerful aristocrat, the men-only night with the prostitutes,
the hunting party and, above all, the whole company forced to watch
"Battleship Potemkin" while Italy is playing the most important soccer game.
Last but not least, the film ends with a ridiculous suicide attempt.
As the Fantozzi character became a national anti-hero, Villaggio self-directed
Fantozzi Contro Tutti (1980), scripted with Benvenuti, Bernardi and Neri Parenti, the film with the lengthy scene about the
cycling adventure mandated by the new company owner, besides the funeral of the deceased one,
his wife's humiliating love affair, the skiing trip and the weight-loss clinic.
Neri Parenti directed all the subsequent "Fantozzi" films until 1999:
Fantozzi Subisce Ancora (1983), another hilarious farce in which his daughter gets pregnant of a serial seducer and his secret love meets a hitchhiker;
Superfantozzi (1986), a series of revisions of historical events
(God's Creation, Jesus' miracles, the run from Marathon, Italy's annexation of Rome in 1870) plus the skit about the soccer hooligans;
Fantozzi va in Pensione (1988), in which
the poor accountant tries in vain to adapt to retirement life and eventually,
after a pathetic vacation in Venice,
pays the company to hire him back;
Fantozzi alla Riscossa (1990), in which Fantozzi is selected for jury
duty in a mafia trial;
Fantozzi in Paradiso (1993), perhaps the most melancholy of the series,
in which even his wife pities him after he is told that he only has a week to
live and his own daughter kicks him out of his own house, and his wife pities him
so much that she pays Fantozzi's not-so-secret romantic love to sleep with him;
Il Ritorno (1996), in which Fantozzi is released from prison just in time to watch the world-cup final but dies in front on the tv-set;
all of them scripted by the same quartet.
Each one is a simply a series of farcical skits about the poor abused employee
and his desperately pointless life.
The Fantozzi "mask" continued the Italian tradition of the
medieval "commedia dell'arte" while borrowing the catastrophic humor of
silent-cinema slapsticks and adapting both to the tragicomedy of ordinary
people crushed by the vast bureaucratic society.
Fracchia la Belva Umana (1981), again directed by Neri Parenti
and scripted with Benvenuti and De Bernardi,
was a film about another television character invented by Villaggio:
the pathetic failed employee has a double who is a brutal killer, his
Ho Vinto la Lotteria di Capodanno/ I Won the New Year's Lottery (1989), another hilarious Fantozzi-style comedy, also directed by Parenti and scripted by the usual team.
La Clonazione (1999) was the first Fantozzi film that employed different writers
and a different director (Domenico Saverni).