Ritals: Italy and France in a Webseries

In this era of new Italian emigrants, Internet is the non-place where the contacts between the expats keep on and where they can compare their different experiences worldwide. The popular web-series Ritals (two seasons, able to reach even more than 200.000 views for some of their episodes) ironically depicts a situation of two Italian transferring to Paris. The term Ritals is a French, quite denigratory word  denoting  Italian immigrants.

The two characters are Svevo and Federico. The first one is a rough, ignorant Roman, rital in the soul, brilliantly portrayed by Svevo Moltrasio, who is also creator, director, scriptwriter and editor of the series. His mate Federico (acted by Federico Iarlori) is more rational and learned, but he often panders to the superficial complaints of Svevo. The episodes are bilingual (Italian and French with subs) and they consist in comic sketches about the Italians approaching French costumes and people.  Situations include elements like stinky French cheese, bathrooms without the Italians beloved bidet, Parisian “aperitifs” …situations that show Svevo and his friend  being nostalgic for their country and in conflict with this new world. Even when they want to escape from provincialism, they always fall in the try. Beyond the main comic intentions, there is the frequent will to end the episodes with a message, sometimes regarding the human innate desire to be elsewhere, sometimes the risks of losing one’s cultural origins and so on.. As a comic series, Ritals is a good product, thanks to the great comic timing of the actors, the editing and the good writing of Moltrasio.  His character, with his lexical blunders and facial mimic (notice his never-ending gum chewing ) , is the main source of laughter.  Considering his evident ignorance, mental closure and the disapproval of his very compatriots, Svevo is not supposed to objectively represent “the Italian emigrant”, so the most caustic, acid observations  about France are delegated to him .

Episode by episode the tone keeps pricklier, and comments below the videos frequently  show grumbles  both from French and Italian viewers. Moltrasio gives them a brilliant answer by writing the episode “The Madeleine”. Here, Svevo eats the famous sweet described by Proust, and its taste brings him into an hallucinatory state, during which  he meets  people representing his critics. This is the occasion for a  meta-textual defense of the fictional  nature of the project and his characters. However, a change in spirit and intention  is evident along the episodes. The first ones are more concerned about the difficulty and inadequacy of the two ritals in an European dimension, but they also show glimpses  of  social commentary, by directly (see the initial sentences  in the very first episode) and indirectly talking about the greater opportunities that Italians find abroad.  As the series goes on, this aspect gives room to various comparisons between France and Italy (more exactly between Paris and Rome) concerning the amount of green spaces, the size of the old town  and similar themes. During an interview at the Italian Cultural Center of Marseille, they explain how this evolution was somehow conscious: the analysis of the views clearly shows that the viral episodes are the ones presenting elements of cultural comparisons. This brought them to change their initial intents, more oriented to a narrative of Svevo and Federico not necessarily linked to the dichotomy Italy/France.

Unfortunately this direction causes  some repetitiveness towards the end of the second season, also due to the numerous extra-videos, many of them more or less presenting the same content. But the undeniable ability of Moltrasio still can offer smart and funny moments. Among them, the citations from cinema, from Shining to Dario Argento, are amusing. The word fin (end) appears  at the end of the ninth and final episode of the second season (launched on 07/13/2017). Combined with the declaration of Moltrasio about not wanting to do always the same thing, it make us think that the project won’t be resumed.

It could be a wise decision, hoping the comic talent of the duo will be soon applied to new and fresh ideas.

Calogero Gambino

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