During his career, Paolo Villaggio played the role of Fantozzi. A comical, weird, and quirky ordinary man. Italians loved it.
Indeed, the character of Fantozzi represented the ordinary and everyday man. He was the comic symbol of Italians.
“Sei un Fantozzi”
“You are a Fantozzi.” Yes, this character was so inspiring and relatable that people used its name as a description. It was the description of a specific type of men. The one who didn’t have much luck with the ladies and who didn’t care much for his job. He was late, slow, and he preferred to stay home with mom. Although, when he was at work, he was servile, always wanting to please the boss.
A Fantozzi didn’t stand up to the bullies. Instead he did silly things, always standing in the background. He’s the fun person at the bar, who makes people laugh. But when you ask for his name, no one remembers it.
Even the term “fantozzata” is a neologism. It means something funny and clumsy. A bit of a shady behavior, but at least it made everyone laugh -mainly because they were making fun of him.
So, a movie and TV character inspired whole generations of Italian viewers. And he even entered the vocabulary. But who was Fantozzi?
Paolo Villaggio first created the character in his books. He wanted to represent the typical man, one without any talents or luck. And the victim of arrogance and abuse, especially by powerful people. He was known for his servile disposition towards his employer and any institution, whatever may that be.
Villaggio’s character works as an accountant in a big company. He’s always trying to redeem himself, especially in the light of society. People viewed him as forgettable and ordinary. But he wanted to be more. Fantozzi wanted to be successful and respected. More than a mere employee number. The inspiration for the character? A coworker of Paolo Villaggio. They both worked at Italsider in Genoa, where servility was a philosophy.
Entering popular culture
The work of Paolo Villaggio was so successful that it was translated in several languages. It even received the Gogol prize for best comedy.
The first Fantozzi movie was released in 1975 and Villaggio was the leading actor. His facial gestures and expressions became legendary because they were silly. Still, Villaggio once said that his character wasn’t a comedic persona. Instead, it reflected a sad condition in life.
In fact, many critics underlined how Fantozzi is the symbolic archetype of the average 70s Italian man. The one working in a firm, with a “bianchina” car, and just trying to improve his social condition.
Lines everyone loves
Some Fantozzi sketches and lines have gone down in history. They became synonym with his character. In particular, two remain are always associated with him. For example, saying “sorry” all the time. Even when nothing wrong happened. And speaking in a formal way and tone. Even with friends.
Fantozzi is also known for the ways he butchers Italian grammar, especially when it comes to use subjunctives correctly.
- « Mi scusi, venerabile maestà? Disponghi di me come meglio vuole! Mi concedi l’onore di essere il suo umilissimo servo! Com’è umano lei!»
“I am sorry, venerable Majesty? Do what you want with me! Give me the honor of being your humble servant! How humane you are! ” (not a single subjunctive is used correctly in these sentences!)
- « Perché io, Pina, ho una caratteristica: loro non lo sanno, ma io sono indistruttibile, e sai perché? Perché sono il più grande perditore di tutti i tempi. Ho perso sempre tutto: due guerre mondiali, un impero coloniale, otto – dico otto! – campionati mondiali di calcio consecutivi, capacità d’acquisto della lira, fiducia in chi mi governa e la testa per un mostro… per una donna come te.»
“You see Pina, I have a certain characteristic: they don’t know it, but I am indestructible, and you know why? Because I am the biggest loser of all time. I have always lost everything: two world wars, a colonial empire, eight–and I say eight!–consecutive football world championships, the purchasing power of the lira, trust in those who govern me and my head for a monster… for a woman like you.”
Fantozzi, always relevant
The figure of Fantozzi si today part of Italy collective memory and plenty of his verbal expressions have entered people’s vocabulary. After 40 years and 10 movies (the last released in 1999), Fantozzi doesn’t seem to feel the passing of time. He’s still celebrated today. For example with the Fantozzi Day in Rome.
The character, always contemporary in his essence, remains as popular as ever, also thanks to the comicity and verve of his creator and interpreter, Paolo Villaggio.