Italy's Shift to Multiplex Facilities Claims Historic Rome Cinema

The Metropolitan in better days
The Metropolitan in better days
 Eric J. Lyman

ROME -- The Metropolitan, the historical Roman cinema that "temporarily" closed its doors two years ago, will now be gone for good after it was announced that the building’s new owners signed a lease to transform the facility into storefronts for two high-end clothing stores.

Lionello Cerri, president of cinema exhibitor association ANEC, said in an interview that the closure of The Metropolitan fits into a wider trend in Italy for small- and medium-sized cinemas in city centers in Italy to close in favor of larger multiplexes on the periphery of the large cities.

“We have been calling on the government for years to take steps to protect the traditional kind of movie house in the center of town,” Cerri said. “It is a key part of a city’s nocturnal life, and part of a healthy city’s cultural DNA.”

Cerri said that the number of cinema screens in Italy has remained steady at around 3,800 in recent years, with screens in larger facilities gradually and steadily replacing smaller and more central facilities.

First opened in 1911, Rome’s Metropolitan, which had four screens, rolled out first-run screenings of many of the classics from the Golden Age of Italian cinema, including works from Federico Fellini, Vittorio De Sica, and Roberto Rossellini, among others. It was known in recent years as one of a small handful of movie houses in Rome showing films in the original language, with Italian subtitles. It was also utilized for screenings during the International Rome Film Festival.

When the cinema was closed in the final days of 2010, it sparked protests from film lovers. There was occasional speculation that it could be reopened as a cinema, but those hopes were finally dashed when it was revealed the facility would be remodeled and opened late this year as a store front for Italian fashion company Fendi and U.S. casual clothing maker Abercrombie & Fitch, which will gain amble storefronts along Rome’s famous Via del Corso.

The building had been owned by Fininvest Immobiliari -- the real-estate wing of the Fininvest holding company controlled by media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi, whose other holdings include three national television networks in Italy and one in Spain, plus the film production and distribution house Medusa. Italian media reported that Fininvest sold the property to Italian fashion giant Benetton for €30 million ($38.8 million), with Benetton leasing it to Fendi and Abercrombie & Fitch.

Twitter: @EricJLyman

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