2006Director: Nanni Moretti
Cast: Margherita Buy, Silvio Orlando, Michele Placido
his film has been credited with kicking media-capo ‘Slick Silvio’—the Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi—out of office. For this alone, director Nanni Moretti deserves hero status, particularly in the context of his country’s domestic cinema. There has been a long-standing reluctance in Italy to criticize the grand editore on the big screen. This timidity is partly the result of a disinclination to rub against the (until recently) astounding popularity the Prime Minister has enjoyed, and partly because, in Italy, as in most European countries, film is largely subsidised by television—a medium that Berlusconi continues to dominate. Owning three terrestrial channels and many more radio stations and newspapers, the reluctantly balding impresario has always been the wrong man to cross, like a modern day Charles Foster Kane. However, Moretti takes on the buffoonish but sinister figure, not just lampooning his vanity and greed, but also tackling the apathetic defeatism he has ingrained within the people of Italy—this political and intellectual atrophy is the great man’s ominous legacy.
How to counter the mind-numbing effect of Berlusconi? Moretti provides the answer here with a vibrant, liberating and authentic film that’s unafraid to engage with reality—in stark opposition to the glitzy spin of Berlusconi’s empty empire. Silvio Orlando plays Bruno, an anxiety-ridden hack producer of B-movies (such as Lady Cop in Stilettos), who begins filming a script he hasn’t even read. To his horror, the self-confessed right-winger realises that he is making a scathing biopic of a Berlusconi-type mogul. Having deceived himself into the pressures of political action, Bruno is also trying to hold together his dissolving marriage. The industry turns away from him, either fearful or bored by his new project. But Bruno—a bundle of newly inspired energy—throws himself into the production, confronting the subject and the looming presence of Berlusconi head on. The surprising, challenging conclusion to the film illustrates Moretti’s serious intent and a fine example of the ceaseless invention of this underrated writer/director.
Il Caimano is no Fahrenheit 9/11; it wields a humorous but persistent antagonism rather than a crude frontal assault. For this reason it seems to have been damned for a lack of courage. However, as great talents such as Billy Wilder and Howard Hawks have shown us, humour betrays a greater awareness of the social (and human condition) than smug soapboxing. It shows class, invention and not a little ambition to entertain when trying to make a point. Moretti plays a small role in the film as an actor refusing the part of Berlusconi because he is working on a comedy. The screenwriter questions his ethics, wondering if now is the time to be making such a film. “It’s always the right time for a comedy,” he says, justifying his own approach as director.
Woven into the film we’re watching is the movie that Bruno is trying to produce, also titled Il Caimano. This movie is a genre thriller of power, corruption and conspiracy. Here Moretti displays his convincing talents as a genre director. Scenes from the movie interrupt our Il Caimano, as if Berlusconi is attempting to sabotage his own critique—not an unusual step for a man who once bought the newspaper that was dedicated to exposing his corruption. Further layers written into the narrative are the bedtime stories told by Bruno to his kids. He offers them violent tales of vengeance, which they happily consume. Bruno, like Berlusconi’s shallow commercial channels, satiates them with the trash they want, not what they need.
Often glibly tagged an ‘Italian Woody Allen,’ Moretti’s inspired script and meta-textual confidence are somewhat reminiscent of Allen’s purple patch of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. It’s also true that both directors share an effortless naturalism and ear for the right line at the right time. That’s where the comparisons end, really. Moretti is a far warmer director than Allen. I also find him a more human, touching observer of the incredulity of everyday life.
Admittedly, Il Caimano is a bit of a mess—but only in a way that convincingly reflects the untidy existence that most of us lead. I’m sure that we all have unresolved subplots of our own, and friends whose characters are in need of a little more development. Called into action at the last, Moretti presents an immediate and particularly incisive film that allows Italy (and its cinema) to look forward to a more politically engaged and courageous future.
Il Caimano is currently in limited release.