Italian politics and Hollywood pop culture merged in a surreal moment when Italy's president, Sergio Mattarella, told director Quentin Tarantino that even Pulp Fiction's Mr Wolf could not solve all of the country's problems.

The bizarre scene took place at the presentation of the David di Donatello movie awards in Rome.

"It's not easy to get out of the crisis," Mattarella, 73, told Tarantino about Italy's struggle to recover from the economic meltdown after they shook hands at Quirinale Palace. "Even if you were to lend us Mr Wolf, he would be incapable of solving all problems".

The reference to the iconic character played by Harvey Keitel in the 1994 cult movie was an unexpected one from the president.

A retired constitutional judge, Mattarella has the reputation of a man of few words and is often satirised as leading a dull life.

Even Tarantino said he was caught by surprised – and flattered – by the comment.

"It was an unexpected homage, I am very pleased," he was quoted as saying by Il Corriere della Sera.

The director was in Rome to receive awards he won but did not collect in 2013 and 1995 for Django Unchained and Pulp Fiction, respectively.

In the latter, Keitel's character famously introduces himself to Jimmie Dimmick, played by Tarantino, by saying: "I'm Mr Wolf; I solve problems."

Mattarella, who was elected to the largely ceremonial role in February, becoming the first Sicilian to hold presidential office, gave an opening address at the awards.