Can a funeral home breathe life into Italian cinema?

Fri Dec 14, 2012 11:07am EST
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By Naomi O'Leary

ROME (Reuters) - A lighthearted Christmas comedy film that stormed Italian box offices this winter is the vehicle for an unusual sponsor: a funeral home.

It is a sign of how Italian cinema, traditionally reliant on public funds that have halved since the 2007-2008 financial crisis, is seeking different sources of support. And its new sponsors often want something in return.

In an advertising deal the Rome company proudly describes as unprecedented, Taffo Funerals paid to be a central plot device in "The Worst Christmas of my Life", which hinges on a main character who is mistakenly believed to have died.

The product placement becomes a punch line when the funeral home manager telephones the hero and soberly intones: "Taffo, funerals since 1940". The film is the highest-grossing Italian film this season.

The placement has prompted some hand-wringing in Italy, once famous for some of the world's greatest works of film and the home of directors Federico Fellini, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Vittorio de Sica and Sergio Leone.

"It's certainly not in great taste, but every film has these advertisements now," said fur-coated Gabriela Rossi, 73, as she left a Rome cinema after watching the movie. "But I'm not sure it will work. I don't think that, in a moment of grief, I will remember the name of a funeral home I saw in a film!"


Embedded advertising has long been a fixture in international cinema. Dutch beer brand Heineken's sponsorship of the latest James Bond blockbuster sparked concern among fans that the hero's time-honored tipple of a martini "shaken, not stirred" had been replaced.   Continued...

Alessandro Taffo, one of the owners of Taffo Funerals, poses at the company's show room in Rome December 14, 2012. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi