Article by Clara Balbi /
Folha De. S.Paulo /
December 19, 2020 /
Click here to view original /
[Portuguese to English Translation]
It is not today that the Christmas and cinema combo sells. The first Christmas film in history, “Santa Claus”, is from 1898, three years after the cinematograph was first presented to the public.
It was only more recently, in the 2000s, however, that these films started to be made en masse, says Australian researcher Lauren Rosewarne, author of “Analyzing Christmas in Film”, or analyzing Christmas in the cinema, without editing in Brazil.
At that time of cable TV’s heyday, many channels found in the production of their own content a way to fatten their programming schedules. And Christmas movies, predictable and relatively cheap, were a great alternative in that sense. While one costs about $ 2 million, a Hollywood film usually starts at $ 10 million.
One of the channels that invested the most in this seasonal content was the American Hallmark. From 2009, he started to produce romantic comedies set on the date, part of a business plan that sought to align the channel’s identity with the company’s Christmas card segment. In 2010, there were five. Last year, there were 40. The information is from a Wall Street Journal report.
It may seem like a lot – and it is, if we think that most of these films are formed by variations of the same plot that includes, among others, exchanged identities, magical encounters in department stores and, of course, a protagonist who hates Christmas.
“It seems that we are always watching the same films because, basically, we are”, summarizes Rosewarne. “The stories are simplistic and repetitive because it helps to shape our expectations regarding gender.”
Now, the expectation is that the amount of such productions will grow even more. This is because, in the streaming war, platforms seek to guarantee the greatest amount of titles for the catalog itself – the model of marathons on the couch on which they are based requires, after all, a constant flow of news. And again, Christmas movies are a simple and inexpensive solution to solve the problem.
Netflix, for example, released its first original Christmas title, a special with Bill Murray, in 2015. But it only started to invest heavily in the genre in 2017, launching four such productions.
Since then, the number of films, series and specials spent on the Christian holiday has increased each year – there were at least 11 in 2018, 19 in 2019, and 29 of them this year. It is worth noting that most of these works are not from romantic comedies that have become synonymous with the date, even though they represent almost a fifth of the total original Christmas productions on the platform. More numerous are those aimed at children, especially those excited.
In a note, Netflix states that the company “invests in a variety of genres and formats” for Christmas to please subscribers, “each with its own taste”. Netflix is not alone in this Christmas avalanche. The recently launched Disney + brings together 71 such productions in its catalog, among classics like “Esqueceram de Mim” and exclusive premieres such as “Noelle”. Amazon Prime Video has at least 40 titles, several of them sweet Hallmark novels.
This inspires the following question – if this is a saturated genre, full of clichés, is it really that this huge amount of titles is not, at bottom, a wave of clones, as Rosewarne says? Streaming seems to be transforming this scenario a bit. First, because platforms have brought to these narratives, dominated by heterosexual white couples, a long-needed diversity of races and genders. Even Kristen Stewart embarked on a lesbian romance set at Christmas this year, Hulu’s “Happiest Season”.
In addition, the globalized mode of production of these companies, based on partnerships with local producers, has helped to show celebrations of the date around the world that move away from the clichés of kitschy sweaters, disguised princes and even snow, which reign in these narratives.
This year, for example, Netflix launched Christmas productions from Norway, Germany, South Africa and even Brazil – the film “Tudo Bem no Natal que Vem”. The latter, starring Leandro Hassum, reinvents a common Christmas story, “time loop”, showing a man who wakes up just before the date, without remembering what he lived the rest of the year.Coincidentally, it is not the only Brazilian Christmas film of 2020 – the other is “Ten Hours for Christmas”, with Luis Lobianco and Giulia Benite, about siblings who race against time to celebrate the date as it deserves after the parents separated, they give up the traditional family meal.
Both films strictly follow the Christmas booklet defined by Rosewarne, the researcher. They are “narratives centered on love, family and celebration where themes such as reconciliation, rebirth and reunion are common”. At the same time, they incorporate elements typical of the Brazilian experience – the dull relative who repeats the joke every year, the shouting when it comes to cutting the turkey, the traffic and the lines at the supermarket. Even the chaos of 25 de Março, a stronghold of popular commerce in São Paulo, appears in “Dez Horas para Natal”. Director of the feature, Cris D’Amato says he hopes that these two Brazilian Christmas films will be the first of many. “We opened the gate,” says the filmmaker. “Sometimes we say that you can’t do that, because we will lose in competition with the Americans. But this Christmas movie opened my mind.”