Monday, April 09, 2007

THE CAIMAN/IL CAIMANO - subtle political tragi-comedy

THE CAIMAN is a fascinating movie from the Italian writer-director Nanni Moretti. It's also, I think, a deeply subtle and unconventional movie. As a result, this review will contain spoilers.

The central character is a charming and hopeful man called Bruno Bonomo who has little to hope for. His wife is divorcing him; he hasn't produced a hit film since the 70s; the bank is on the verge of reposessing his studio; and the director of his new film - a cheesy biopic of Christopher Columbus destined for TV - has walked out on him. So, out of desperate need for a project - any project - Bruno grabs a script by a young untried radical director called Teresa - and sells it to the TV studios before he's even read it. Only as he begins the production process does he realise that the film is an indictment of the corrupt regime of Italian president, Silvio Berlusconi.

Now, the fact that this is a movie about the difficulties of making a movie about Berlusconi, has led many reviewers and audiences to expect a political satire. As a result, they leave disappointed, and might perhaps be better directed toward the excellent doc, VIVA ZAPATERO! Of course, the film does sum up the reasons why, to quote a notorious Economist front cover, "This man is not fit to govern Italy." One of the film's most arresting images is of a suitcase full of lira falling through the ceiling of Berlusconi's office and a constant refrain is, "where did the money come from?" However, those looking for new revelations about Berlusconi should look elsewhere.

Because THE CAIMAN is not a film about how corrupt Berlusconi is. This is all public knowledge. THE CAIMAN is a film about how ordinary Italians deal with this fact - or more accurately, for the most part, choose not to deal with this fact. And to this end, the moral and political torpor is reflected in the crises engulfing Bonomo's life and the general venality of middle-class life.

For example, despite his financial, professional and familial woes, Bonomo spends an inordinate amount of time worrying about how his son is doing in junior football. Indeed, a lot of funny set pieces are centred on Bruno and his wife intrusively supporting their clumsy son from the sidelines. It's not hard to draw a parallel between this love of soccer and Berlusconi's use of soccer clubs to cement his power-base. Another interesting and comical scene is the one in which Bonomo realises that the young radical director, Teresa, has an unconventional lifestyle - pure conservative shock! But the venality of life is everywhere around. The actor playing The Caiman, for instance, is a lecherous hound, and he will, like others, back out of this radical project.

At other times, Nanni Moretti cannot resist drawing satirical parallels that have little to do with the central subject of the movie. For instance, his wife, and perhaps the viewer, criticises his habit of telling his young sons gruesome stories of a female vamp, Aidra, at bed-time. But then, in another scene, we have his kids watch a particularly vicious and scary scene from the critically acclaimed cartoon, SPIRITED AWAY. "What's the difference?", Moretti seems to say.

THE CAIMAN is by no means a perfect movie - there is simply too much going on - and the confusion of trying to understand how a man like the Caiman/Berlusconi can turn a nation into torpor spills out into the complex thematic structure and meandering narrative. But it is a fascinating response to current Italian politics and more subtle than another rehearsal of the crimes of Silvio.

THE CAIMAN/IL CAIMANO played Cannes and Toronto 2006. It opened in Italy, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Finland, Greece, Sweden, Brazil, Denmark and Australia in 2006. It opened in Norway in February 2007 and is currently playing in the UK. It opens in Germany on July 4th.

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