On 17th March (this Wednesday) Hollywood will descend on Lake Como for a day of filming at the Villa Balbiano. They will move on the following day to a nearby location on the lakefront at Azzano di Mezzegra. Both locations are within the Comune of Tremezzina. They may also shoot some footage along the coastal road between Argegno and Colonno. The subject of the film is the Gucci dynasty with an inevitable focus on the most infamous chapter in that blighted family’s history – the murder of Maurizio Gucci on the doorsteps of his office in Milan on 27th March 1995.
The director of the film is Ridley Scott, a veteran Hollywood director with such titles as ‘Gladiator’, ‘Blade Runner’ and ‘Thelma and Louise’ to his credit. The film also boasts an array of Hollywood stars including Lady Gaga (whose real name is Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta), Adam Driver, Al Pacino and Jeremy Irons. The targeted release date of the film with the working title of ‘The House of Gucci’ is 24th November this year.
The story of the Gucci dynasty would seem tailor-made for a cinematic epic assuming the plot skips over most of the complex financial arrangements, share dealings and takeover battles that brought the family into internecine conflict right from its foundation in Florence by Guccio Gucci at the turn of the last century. Instead we can expect the focus to be on the era in which Gucci became one of the world’s leading brands of luxury goods helping to establish Milan as a centre of fashion thanks mainly to the design genius of Tom Ford. As the Gucci brand went from strength to strength at that time, the Gucci family itself actually lost control of their family business. Maurizio Gucci was the ill-fated family member who, in spite of his powerful vision for success, could not convince his financial backers of his ability to realise it. Perhaps of even greater interest to the film’s scriptwriters, he found himself in mortal conflict with his estranged wife and the mother of his two daughters, Patrizia Reggiani nicknamed Lady Gucci or the ‘Joan Collins of Monte Napoleone’. It was Patrizia Reggiani who paid for the assassination of her former husband back in 1995, arranged on her behalf by her good friend and personal clairvoyant Pina Auriemma. In 1997 she received a twenty six year sentence for commissioning the murder leading to her release from Milan’s San Vittore prison seventeen years later.
The full story of the Gucci dynasty has been set out in an excellent book by Sara Gay Forden entitled ‘The House of Gucci: A Sensational Story of Murder, Madness, Glamour and Greed’ – an irresistible cocktail as the book’s subtitle suggests for Hollywood’s scriptwriters. However, in spite of all the glamorous locations cited in the book, there’s only one mention of Como and that is in relation to the silk scarf known as the Flora commissioned by Rodolfo Gucci for Princess Grace of Monaco from local silk printer Fiorio – a business which is now part of the Como-based Canepa Group. In spite of this, Hollywood have decided to include Lake Como as one of the exotic locations where the domestic drama of the Gucci dynasty was played out, to the delight no doubt of all those promoting the lake as an exclusive destination for a luxury holiday or a romantic wedding.
The two hundred strong production unit along with the director and his actors arrived in Rome and then moved up to Milan where Lady Gaga, playing the part of the young Patrizia Reggiani, visited the hairdresser and became a brunette. They moved to Gressoney in the Val D’Aosta presumably to reconstruct the scenes that took place in reality at Maurizio’s and Patrizia’s Saint Moritz home. Adam Driver is playing the part of the luckless Maurizio who had tried to deny Patrizia access to this second home which she had come to love dearly.
Filming then moved on to the streets of Milan where the director will need to try to recreate the atmosphere of the city in the period between the mid eighties to 1995 when Maurizio was killed. This was a very particular era in Milan’s modern history which has come to be called ‘Milano da Bere’ after a TV ad for the alcoholic drink ‘Ramazzotti Amaro’.
This ad seemed to capture what was a new found feeling of general well-being aided by a consumerism and confidence as the city became a fashion capital. In this optimistic period following (more or less) the end of the string of terrorist attacks and kidnappings known as the ‘anni di piombo’, social acceptance was automatic if you had the money and presented a ‘bella figura’. This was the era when Milan’s growth provided the base for Bettino Craxi’s political power financed through his system of demanding paybacks on the granting of all construction contracts in the city including from Silvio Berlusconi for his satellite development known as Milano 2 financed with Sicilian Mafia money. Maurizio’s murder followed on from the collapse of the Craxi system once brought to light in the series of Mani Pulite (Clean Hands) trials. Both events marked the definitive end of a particular phase in the city’s socioeconomic development. Let’s hope Ridley Scott can evoke that period as effectively as Federico Fellini did in earlier times for Rome in ‘La Dolce Vita’ – a film title that itself became the catchphrase for a specific time and place.
It’s not clear why Lake Como or the Villa Balbiano have been selected amongst the film’s locations beyond their obvious photogenic attraction. Unlike Gianni Versace who had a holiday villa directly on the lakefront in Moltrasio, Maurizio Gucci preferred his mountain retreat in Saint Moritz. However Villa Balbiano, on the border between Ossuccio and Lenno, is gloriously located away from the main road and directly on the lakefront. It was originally built for the Giovio family at the end of the sixteenth century but was immediately handed over to Cardinal Tolomeo Gallio. It was later bought by Cardinal Durini in 1787 who then commissioned the building of a sister villa, the Villa Balbianello, on the nearby Lavedo promontory.
Villa Balbianello has since become the much better known of the Durini properties due to its use as a location in films such as Star Wars and Casino Royale. The Villa Balbiano is however no stranger to publicity having hosted a number of celebrity weddings over the years.
The other chosen location for this week’s filming is the lakefront at Azzano di Mezzegra, also in Tremezzina, for which the production has ordered three ‘Inglesine’ – the traditional man-powered Lake Como water taxis – to be in attendance and a large smoke machine to produce an ethereal mist over the water.
The arrival of the Hollywood entourage has come as a gift to some of the local hoteliers who have of course suffered a dreadful time due to the pandemic. The Grand Hotel Cadenabbia will open its doors earlier than normal this year to host the 200 strong production unit. Meanwhile the stars of the film have chosen to stay in the ‘exclusive’ enclaves of the Villa D’Este in Cernobbio. Rumour has it that Lady Gaga may copy Jennifer Aniston in staying at the hotel’s Villa Cima annexe. Rumour also suggests that Al Pacino, playing the part of Aldo Gucci, will occupy Robert De Niro’s favourite corner suite on the Piano Nobile of the main building. No rumours surround where Jeremy Irons or Ridley Scott will sleep but I do not expect they will be required to share.
Films on Lake Como
Lake Como has itself been the star of a number of Hollywood films over the years. Mention has already been made of the Star Wars episode and Casino Royale while recently in 2019 Jennifer Aniston (when not occupying a suite at the Villa D’Este) and Adam Sandler zoomed around the lake overturning a red Ferrari in the whimsical piece of nonsense ‘Murder Mystery’. There is the threat they may return to the lake to make a sequel. In times gone by Alfred Hitchcock used the Villa D’Este and other locations on Lake Como in his 1925 film ‘The Pleasure Garden’. He then came back to Como in December 1926 to spend part of his honeymoon at the same hotel to which he returned on a number of subsequent occasions.
Nor have the attractions of Lake Como been ignored by Italian filmmakers. One of my favourite films is ‘Innamorato Pazzo’ from 1981 starring Ornella Muti and Adriano Celentano. It includes a scene filmed on location in Como’s Villa Olmo in which Celentano, playing the part of a bus driver, is assisted by the bus depot’s musical band in serenading La Muti playing the part of a Princess. Years after Celentano admitted to having a brief affair with La Muti during the production of this film. This was at the time a devastating admission given how Celentano is known for his long standing stable marriage. Celentano, now aged over 80 and still happily married, decided to make Lake Como his home in 2020 by purchasing a villa in Galbiate close to Lecco.
Celebrities Depicting Celebrity
Of course Celentano is not so well known as George Clooney who, in spite of owning numerous properties, still finds time to take up seasonal residence in Laglio where he manages to carve out some sort of life within the confines of his celebrity status. It may be too early in the season for him to be at home to entertain our current batch of celebrity visitors. They will have to amuse themselves within the confines of the Villa D’Este if they are granted any time away from filming. All of the main ‘celebrity’ locations such as the Gatto Nero in Rovenna are closed due to Covid restrictions nor are they likely to be able to take a casual stroll into Cernobbio unless armed with their ‘autocertificazione’ to present if challenged by the police.
Celebrity must at times be a hard burden to bear with the limitations it inflicts on personal liberty. Celebrity is also at the heart of the Gucci story. It will be interesting to see how Ridley Scott uses his own band of celebrities to present the life of the ill-fated Guccis. Behind Maurizio Gucci’s celebrity and the image of success lay fear of failure and inadequacy, constant financial anxiety, estrangement from his two daughters, and a jealous wife hell bent on revenge. For the rejected wife Patrizia Reggiani it meant seventeen years in a Milanese prison before being able to return to her husband’s luxury apartment on Corso Venezia that had been originally decorated for the benefit and to the orders of her rival, Paola Franchi.
The Hotel Villa D’Este in Cernobbio was itself the setting of a celebrity murder that gripped the Italian media in the post war era. Read about it in Murder on the Dance Floor- Italy’s Crime of the 20th Century on Lake Como
The area of Tremezzina, Ossuccio and Isola Comacina holds many attractions for visitors. Read more in:
For me some of the best Italian films depicting the ‘Milano Da Bere’ era are two of the comedies starring the Milanese actor, Renato Pozzetto. These are ‘Un Povero Ricco’ and ‘Il Ragazzo di Campagna’ both available on Youtube in their original language. You can also find ‘Innamorato Pazzo’ on Youtube but, in spite of the use of Villa Olmo as one of the settings, the film is resolutely urban Roman. Search for ‘Milano da Bere‘ and you will even find the original Ramazzotti advert on Youtube
Sara Gay Forden’s book ‘The House of Gucci’ is available on Amazon.
Documentaries have also been made of the life of Patrizia Reggiani and can be tracked down on Google.
Gucci stores still exist around the world for those with sufficient disposable income. Fake Gucci bags can still be had from itinerant sellers assuming the beaches will open up again in the summer season.