Made in 1992, ‘Parenti Serpenti‘ is the title of a very good Italian, er, ‘Christmas’ film. ‘Parenti’ does not, as one may think, mean ‘parents’. Instead it refers to everyone who makes up a family, commonly know as ‘relatives’ or ‘relations’.
‘Serpenti’, on the other hand, does indeed refer to those slithery animals, otherwise known as ‘snakes’. Now, perhaps you are getting the idea.
What’s it about? I’ll tell you.
To cut a long story short, the film, a black comedy, is about a Italian family that gets together for the usual seasonal festivities. Anyway, there is mum and dad, who are getting on a bit and then there are the ‘children’ – all grown up, some with families, and one single man. And they all chat and back-bite and do all the usual things which relations get up to, which is contrary to the popular view that Italian families are one, large, and happy crowd. Yet, the characters and the situation is very Italian.
All is going well and they are tucking into their Christmas Day, or Christmas Eve (can’t recall which) meal when mum drops a bit of a bombshell. She announces that seeing as she and dad are becoming older by the day, she reckons that they both need to be looked after by one of their offspring and that the brothers and sisters should decide which of them will become the lucky carer.
The children, not as you might expect seeing as this is Italy and families are closer than UK families for example, find it rather difficult to disguise their horror at the thought of ending up having to look after their decrepit mum and dad. In fact, after much debate, the progeny, by chance, find themselves in a local bar and just happen to hear a story on the TV news about an old couple who were blown into the next life by a gas heater. Silence descends upon the assembled heirs, and they slowly turn to face one another, hatching a cunning, and rather horrific plot.
A Heated Present
The very next day, New Years Eve, the ageing folks are presented with, yes you guessed it, a shiny new gas heater. Oh what thoughtful spawn! Well, the house is rather chilly, after all, and mama does happen to have this habit of heating up the parental bed with an open pan filled with hot coals, so why not introduce them something a little more up-to-date? And volatile.
The Explosive Ending
That very night all the thoughtful siblings leave mum and dad alone while they attend a nice little ‘keep up with the Joneses’ New Year’s bash. Oddly enough, while they are out ensuring that old acquaintances are not forgotten, mum and dad’s house just happens to explode, sending the old folks into the other world and thus resolving the niggling little problem of who was going to look after mum and dad.
It’s a delightful film and sort of dispels the Italian ‘big happy families’ idea. I don’t know if it has been dubbed into other languages, or even if it would work if it were to be translated.
Italian cinema does, on occasion, come up with some real gems and this film is certainly one of them – almost worth learning Italian for!
A version of Parenti Serpenti with English subtitles exists, though it’s not easy to find. It’s well worth seeing – preferably around Christmas time and maybe while your parents are staying 😉