Steffi and Bob

by Emmanuel Grossi

At the beginning of the 1990s, after a decade of non-memorable commercials that could not be compared even in the slightest to the success gathered in Italy, Barilla decided to invest massively in its own international communication campaigns and to point on celebrities. The company engaged three of them, one more famous and important than the other: Gerard Depardieu for France, Placido Domingo for Spain and Steffi Graf for Germany. The latter remained connected with the company for the longest time: she interpreted various commercials between 1991 and 1993 and made a welcome comeback at the end of the first decade of 2000.

Probably the nicest series, in which a strong tie to the world of tennis can be perceived though ironical decontextualization and desecration of the symbolic elements of this discipline, is the one of 1993, articulated in three subjects. In the first one, Steffi, who is held on a phone call while the pot is on the stove, shoots a ball with her mythical tennis racquet and hits straight on the gas button on the stove, turning it off. In the second one, the racquet is the protagonist, and it is used improperly as a colander for pasta in the absence of a real one. In the last one, the desecration is complete and regards the Rosewater Dish, the chiseled silver trophy of the single female tournament of Wimbledon, which Steffi had won for five almost consecutive times by then, failing to win only the 1990 one. In the commercial Steffi pours the pasta into the Rosewater Dish to serve it to her friends at the table, since she accidentally dropped the serving dish that broke into pieces…

These singular ideas (authored by the Butler & Shine agency of Sausalito, California) were paired with a non-conventional filmic treatment, according to the style of Italian American movie director Bob Giraldi, at the time one of the most appreciated worldwide. Bold and contrasting lights and a shooting style with hand held cameras broke the schemes as well: the author of both was the valiant cinematographer Luca Robecchi, who in those years often worked side by side with Giraldi in Italian and foreign commercials, for example for Buitoni, ENI, Peroni and Campari (in a short with a magical and sensual atmosphere filmed just a few months earlier on the beaches of Rio de Janeiro).
Many more times Giraldi worked for Barilla (and Mulino Bianco). Often, the atmospheres were cloaked with snow: in 1991 he directed Paul Newman as Santa Claus among Husky dogs and fir woods, in 1992 Alberto Tomba as a new James Bond, and in 1994 Zucchero and a children’s choir enclosed into a Christmas glass ball (thanks to the miracles of post-production).