ยป modern days | 17 July 2012, 11:53 | ::

The Maestoso cinema on the Appian Way has been occupied by employees and local residents who oppose its conversion into a shopping mall. It was the first multiplex to open in Rome.

There is something deeply romantic in how many Italians have never fully acccepted the basic tenets of capitalism. Despite all the evidence and the efforts, including the very latest on the part of the new government, the Italian mind seems rooted in an imaginary world where the will and the benefit of the community have some priority over economic concerns, especially when it comes to urban planning.

These people in Rome, for example, just want their cinema and apparently are prepared to fight for it. They don’t seem to care that the owners can sell the building at a higher profit to developers, or that the “shopping arcade” will surely secure much higher revenues than a cinema. Moreover the residents seem determined to affirm a right to keep living in their homes, which are part of the site being sold, and whose tenancies have not been extended. Now the idea of a tenant taking direct action to challenge a landlord’s legitimate decision to do business with their property would never even brush the mind of a properly trained citizen of a mature market democracy, would it?

Compare that to the accepting and mature way in which the citizens of one said advanced market economies, England, have observed the centres of their cities turn into profitable, business-friendly glass and plastic non-places. “Monoculture(s) totally dominated by chain stores” as one Manchester city councillor, D. Ramsbottom, once had it.

To be fair a few months ago a somewhat similar protest, with very similar motivations, was staged here in Manchester and properly dealt with by authorities. Young people briefly occupied the site of the KRO bar – one of the fewest establishments with a tiny bit of character still surviving in the Oxford road area, set to become the 127th Tesco in the city. The protesters were ignored, when not laughed at, by diligent passers-by and later arrested by police. Manchester is “open for business”, as they love to say, and interfering with the flowing of capital is an unforgivable sin.

Back in Italy, the Maestoso is not the first cinema in Rome to be dismissed and turned into chain retail. Most notable was the case of Metropolitan, one of the only two cinemas in Rome to show movies in their original language. Opened in 1911 it was shut days before its 100th anniversary to make way for a Benetton megastore (or something similar). That closure too was met by some resistance, but the area where it stood – via del Corso – is nowdays little more than a giant open air mall and tourist theme park. The local community is long gone and those protesting against the closure were a few all-worthy bourgeois cinephiles who unfortunately didn’t last long. The Maestoso stands in a more diverse and somehow “working-class” area, so a deal of resistance is hopefully to be expected.