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Italy’s theatrical box office is finally showing some encouraging signs after long lagging behind other European countries in terms of post-pandemic returns.

“Don’t Worry Darling,” segueing from its Venice launch, opened better in Italy than in France and Germany last weekend when the Harry Styles and Florence Pugh-starrer scored €965,000 ($947,000) from Italian screens in the frame ending September 25, landing in the number two spot.  

The “Avatar” re-release weighed in at number one in Italian theaters with €1.65 million ($1.61 million), a better opening than Germany.

The same frame saw three Italian films – all Venice launches – among the top ten. Most notable of these is  Gianni Amelio’s “Lord of the Ants,” a biopic of Italian poet and playwright Aldo Braibanti, who was jailed in 1968 due to a Fascist-era anti-gay law. “Ants” has now scored a decent more than €1.4 million ($1.36 million) since bowing on Sept. 8 and briefly reaching the numero uno slot. 

In early September, during Venice, Italy’s culture ministry issued an alarming report showing that in 2022 more than 60% of the country’s population did not go to the movies. Italian admissions for the first half of this year were still down more than 50% compared to the pre-pandemic year 2019, when they reached the 100 million mark.

But shortly after the fest local motion picture association ANICA and Italy’s exhibitors launched a five-day event called Cinema in Festa offering discounted tickets at participating theaters across the country that has been a resounding success. The Sept. 18-22 initiative (modeled on National Cinema Day in the U.K. and U.S.) drew 1.2 million admissions and €4 million ($3.9 million) in box office revenue which represents a €2.2 million ($2.1 million) jump compared with the previous frame. This take is all the more significant since tickets went for €3.50 ($3.40), which is roughly half price.

“The results prove that you have to allow all sectors of the population to rediscover the cinemagoing experience,” says Valerio Carocci, head of the collective of activists and film buffs who are running Rome’s state-of the-art Cinema Troisi. He notes that “The lower price created a positive synergy between distribution and exhibition.” Carocci also points out that his collective, which is known as the Cinema America kids, had been applying this principle for years by running outdoor summer arenas that screened vintage or second and third-run movies for free before opening the Cinema Troisi exactly one year ago, on Sept. 30 2021. Cinema Troisi has become Italy’s top single screen venue with more than 55,000 admissions over the past twelve months.

To celebrate its first year in business, on Sept. 20 – a few days before Italy’s national elections at which the far-right has triumphed – Carocci organized an event during which philosopher Noam Chomsky and director Ken Loach appeared together, via video link, to discuss the lack of leadership within Italy’s left, followed by a screening of Loach’s “Riff Raff.”

“Our goal is to transform cinemas into something that goes beyond just showing first-run movies,” says Carocci, highlighting that the key to getting more people into movie theaters is “to be strongly rooted in our territory” and to “create a social network within the city.”

This has allowed Cinema Troisi to be programmed in part like a festival, with retrospectives including Pierpaolo Pasolini and Hayao Miyazaki alongside mainstream titles such as “Don’t Worry Darling,” albeit always in original language, and shows starting at 11:00 A.M. through to the midnight screenings that have become their trademark.

As for eclectic titles, among those that Carocci is particularly proud of having screened are Ninja Thyberg’s drama “Pleasure” set in the L.A. porn industry that premiered last year at Sundance and played at Cinema Troisi in August, and Gaspar Noé’s “Vortex,” starring Dario Argento and Françoise Lebrun as an elderly couple in their twilight years, that played with Noé and Argento both on hand to discuss the film with the audience on two nights.

Carocci is also glad that other movie theaters across Italy are finding new ways to lure audiences.

On Saturday Rome will see the symbolically significant grand reopening of the city’s historic Cinema Barberini, which was built in 1930 by Angelo Giuseppe Rossellini, who was Neo-realist master Roberto Rossellini’s father. The multi-screen venue in central Rome, which was shuttered in 2019 after several dead rats were found on the premises, has just been refurbished with state-of-the-art Dolby Atmos sound and plush seating. It promises to program “blockbusters, art movies, and films in original language, as well as stand-up comedy, art exhibitions, and concerts,” according to a statement.