Once notorious for its strict and prudish approach to film rating, the Italian ratings board has always been funded and managed by the government through the Ministry of Culture, and Catholic principles played a crucial role in the evaluation criteria.
However, since January, the rating system has been updated by the Directorate General for Cinema, the section of the ministry that deals with film, following the approval of a new law regulating all branches of cinema. The ratings bands have been
revised, and no longer can a film receive a total ban in Italy.
Films are approved for all audiences, or else rated not suitable for ages under six, 14 or 18. But these ratings are now merely recommendations, as long as children under the
suggested ages are accompanied by an adult.
Production companies are invited to help the classification system by self-regulating, the intention being that the board will perform more of a supervisory role in the future.
Here in Italy, censorship has been very strong until the late 1980s, now the "ratings" for movies are "General Audience", "14" and "18", but the ratings are limited to the admittance in the theatres (even a kid can
rent an 18-rated movie at the videostore, as long as it isn't an 18-rated porn).
Also, we have cut versions on television releases of movies (but the video versions and those broadcasted on non-open TV chains such as satellite TVs are all uncuts; in
fact censorship has lost all power to impose cuts on movies).
As for porn ratings, here everything that's porn is allowed for sale and view over 18 years of age as long as it's not illegal porn (illegal porn here is the one showing real-life
sexual abuses, "snuffs" and paedophilia,
There is a fact: censorship won't work against illegal stuff. Only legal stuff is submitted to censorship; illegal stuff is not. I am not only a movie enthusiast but also a gun enthusiast and
expert (I'm a co-operator of a website, www.securityarms.com which is the largest free data-bank of pictures and technical specs of firearms. I'm also an external co-operator of an Italian gun magazine called DIANA ARMI),
guns and censoring movies is the same thing: it will only filter LEGAL stuff to end in LEGAL ways. Pedophiles will keep on smuggling their shit in the black market, as well as the criminals will not surrender their illegal guns.
But let's get
back to Italian censorship.
The Italian "Censorship Committee" is a rather obscure entity, even its "belonging" is misknown (I'm not even sure if it reports to the Ministry of Culture and Spectacle or directly to the
Presidence of the Council of Ministers, the Italian "Prime Minister's office"). It was founded during the Fascist Regime, in the late 1920s, or most probably at its peak in the 1930s, in order to "filter" anything from press to movies
to radio and music that circulated in Italy, and prevent "anti-fascist influences" from either insider/national dissidents or from foreign enemy countries (UK, USA, USSR).
Back then, it belonged to the now defunct MINCULPOP
("Ministero della Cultura Popolare", or Ministry of Popular Culture, a very strange name to denominate a Ministry for Propaganda); please note that the very same achronyme MINCULPOP is very hyronic, in fact "INCUL" sounds like the
Italian vulgar verb "INCULare", that means "to fuck s.o. in the ass". MINCUL sounds like "M'INCULo", meaning in Italian "I fuck [...] in the ass". MINCULPOL could be translated like "M'INCULo il POPolo",
or "I fuck the People in the ass"; nothing more, nothing less, than what the MINCULPOP's actual activity was.
After the end of the Fascist Regime, the Censorship Committee lost its powers of "anti-regime" control, but most of
its powers remained. In fact, for about 60 years, my country was governed by the Christian-Democratic Party, with strong liaisons with the Catholic Church. The Censorship Committees then power to evaluate everything, from music to press, from movies to
TV programs, that the Italian people could access (in fact, everything had to be SUBMITTED to the Censorship Committee).
While they didn't care that much about, as to say, horror movies (and that is seen mainly in the 1970s, when the Italian
horror erupted, and most of those movies were released uncut in their gory scenes), they had a very "vigilant eye" about everything that could "hurt the common sense of decency". You get what I mean. Movie masterpieces like Last
Tango In Paris , or Salo or the 120 Days of Sodoma , fell victims of the merciless Censorship Committee. They had basically the power to IMPOSE cuts on the theatre movie releases, and even to BAN movies; in fact, Last Tango In Paris
was banned from the Italian soil. Please note that, back at that time, there was no such thing as "Home Video", and there were no other television chains in Italy but the three Public channels, that (mainly) didn't broadcasted movies.
Allow me now a little excursion about pornography. Here in Italy, ALL pornography (even soft-core porn like "Playboy") was completely forbidden and banned until the end of the 1970s; making, importing or exporting, trading, buying or
selling, owning porn material of any kind, meant going to jail. Still today, an old law that was never repealed forbids the MAKING on the Italian soil of certain porn material, but this is limited to movies; everything else is allowed, and generally the
Italian porn-makers (which currently are the hugest in the EU) shoot their porn movies in France (they even spend LESS money producing in France). Everything else is allowed, from live porn shows to... well, anything else; and the only illegal porn here
in Italy is today the one I told you (child porn and movies that we might call "Snuff" that depict real-life rapes and/or murders; strong jail sentences, from 5 up to 30 years of prison, are mandatory in Italy for the making, importing or
exporting, trading, buying, selling or owning of such porn; and that's EXACTLY how it should be).
The availability of porn material on the market is restricted to people of 18 years of age, or up. But porn journals, and often video-cassettes, are
available for sale in any news-stand just around the corner. There are some exceptions, like porn comics (as, to say, Japanese "Hentai" magazines) and soft-core journals (like "Playboy") which availability is to people over 14 years
of age. But, hey, here in Italy the minimum age for drinking alcohol is 13, 16 for working in places were alcohol is sold, and also 16 for buying tobacco for themselves, so... Anyway, here in Italy, there's not much problems for porn, mainly because most
of the porn movies are distributed via the Home Video circuit, "general-purpose" movie theatres don't screen porn movies any longer, there are specialized theatres in the biggest cities, but who needs to go to a porn theatre when you can rent
one at the automatic distributor of your home video rent shop just down the street?
Let's get back to the Censorship Committee. Now, after the middle 1970s, the powers of the Committee have slowly decreased; and the power of the Catholic Church
and other moralists over it has fallen. Now, the Censorship Committee has no longer the power to ban movies from the Italian territory.
Yes, a movie can still be banned, but two are the possibilities: #1: If it's PROVED by the Police authorities
that somebody has been really killed during the making (and NOT for an accident; in short, if it's proved that the movie has "Snuff" content); #2: If private citizens file a lawsuit against the film-makers asking the ban of the movie. But this
is a very restricted option; basically, you can NOT ask the ban of the movie because it is "offensive for the public", but only if the movie damages you, your family or your interest in any direct way. As in the example: there is this movie,
THE GOD'S BANKERS, that talks about the activities and the death of a banker, Roberto Calvi. The movie was banned from the movie theatres because Calvi's relatives sued the authors stating that the movie "besmirched the figure and the memory"
of Mr. Calvi. But the movie was distributed in Home Video, because if you sue movie-makers and obtain the withdrawal of a movie from the movie theatres circuit (not from the Home Video, that's not provided for by the Law), you have to REFUND the
movie-makers for the missed incomes of the movie distribution.
The Censorship Committee can only issue the ratings, which are:
FILM PER TUTTI (General Audience)
VIETATO AI MINORI DI 14 ANNI, or simply V.M.14 (Not allowed to Audience under 14 Years of age)
VIETATO AI MINORI DI 18 ANNI, or simply V.M.18 (Not allowed to Audience under 18 Years of age)
Once, there was also the "VIETATO AI MINORI DI 16 ANNI", or simply V.M. 16 (Not allowed to Audience under 16 Years of age), but, though still provided for by the law, it has been years since the rating was last issued.
The reasons of
issue of a rating are the same worldwide, I think: sexual contents, graphic violence or strong language, use of substances, etc.
The Censorship Committee is composed by "movie experts" (critics, I think), sociologists, psychologists and
psychiatrists, university professors experts in "morality" and "ethical" issues, members of parent and teacher associations, and delegates of the Catholic Church and of other religious confessions.
The Censorship Committee, in
the past, had the power to impose strong cuts to movies. Now, the cuts can only be "suggested", not imposed, to avoid a severe rating; but this happens seldom, now, since most of the movies that hit our movie theatres are foreign-made (mainly
US productions, but isn't this the situation worldwide?), in which cuts are already imposed "from the source".
What still one can generally complain about when talking about the Censorship Committee (especially when an Italian movie is
evaluated) is that, for every movie, the Committee writes a "report" to justify the rating they give, this report is not released to the general audience but circulates between Governmental entities, authorities and "authorized
personnel", this meaning the (VERY SMALL) world of the movie producers; you will understand that, if the report spots a bad light over the content of the movie, this will reflect over the movie-makers; and this results in damage to the distribution
of the movie (a 18-rated movie will necessarily have less public than a 14-rated movie), plus a bad Censorship report can have a bad influence on the future possibilities for that particular director to find fundings for his movies in the private sector
(who finances a film-maker when he makes 18-rated movies that will not sell well?), and makes almost impossible for him to receive Public fundings (Italy has a system that issues public fundings to the "National Interest" works of art).
Should also be noted that the "18" rating applies automatically to ALL the porn movies.
More notes about the Italian censorship. The Censorship Committee has NO power to overview the movies, etc., that are distributed only on the
Home-Video market. These movies are thus marked like "Censorship Visa not necessary - Not destinated to Theatrical release", but the makers have to "self-rate" their movie with a General Audience, 14 or 18 stamp on the back of the DVD
or VHS box. Also, the Home-Video release movies are all UNCUT, even in the rare cases when the movie has been cut for the theatrical release (please note that, in the nowadays' Italy, cuts on theatrical release movies are often done "from the
source" for marketing reasons, rather than under "suggestion" from either the Italian or a foreign Censorship entity).
The Censorship Committee can not ban movies, but it can still put severe difficulties to its release; that's why
many "extreme" movies are released only on the Home-Video market. Recently a distribution company called DYNAMIC ITALIA (specialized on Japanese stuff, mainly Manga Anime) has made a huge mistake trying to distribute on theatres the well-known
movie BATTLE ROYALE; they have submitted it to the Censorship Committee, that is putting such an enormous number of problems to its release that it will unlikely see distribution soon. DYNAMIC ITALIA could still withdraw the movie from the Censorship's
approval and distribute it only on video; I wonder why they didn't done this from the very first time.
In the year 2001, a right-wing political coalition won the election and raised to the Government. Under their government, the conservative
mind-sets took new force and so did the bigot ideas. The religious delegates (the Catholic Church-men, mainly) gained new power over it, and the 18-ratings on "controversial" movies have started again to be distributed like candies. But I
seriously doubt that the Censorship Committee will ever re-gain its original life-and-death powers.
A special note about censorship in television: here in Italy, there is an "Authority for the Communications" that, between the other
things, has imposed a "Self-Control Code" over the television chains. These rules include the prohibition of transmitting any material that can be "shocking" (either sexually explicit or horrific, or anything like) in the
"Protected Time Lapse", this being the hours from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m., when more probably minors will be watching. Even out of that time lapse, anyway, the TV chains usually don't broadcast "strong content" movies, or if they do it,
them have warnings at the beginning (if them are blockbusters like, to say "Full Metal Jacket", them are broadcasted but with heavy cuts).
This lasts since about 15 years; so much for hypocrisy of a TV regulation that, on one side,
forbids violent movies and leaves "extreme" programs to be broadcasted only after midnight (there are a lot of TVs that do so), but on the other hand leaves alone the TV News when they broadcast crude images of the soldiers dead in Iraq, or
Variety shows featuring half-naked dancers and so (trash-variety, get used to it if you watch Italian TV).
I hate the "Self-Regulation" system. It's hypocritical system that leaves alone quiet those irresponsible parents that
think the TV to be a electronic baby-sitter to park their children. Well, it is NOT. And I don't see why we shouldn't be able to see GOOD stuff on TV just because a handful of arseholes have not the will to care about their kids. Send them out to play
down the street, instead (here in Italy, it is still safe, even in the biggest cities).
An interesting note is that these rules DON'T apply to the TV chains that don't broadcast "Open". As in the example: Satellite TVs, which you pay
for and are NOT readily accessible (plus which decoders can be programmed to obscure "adult" contents if a code is not inserted) are not submitted to these rules. I have a satellite Tv and I can see gory horror and hardcore pornography at
Update: Free in Italy
Presumably to encourage the local film industry, film certification is a free service in Italy.