A FilmExposed Film Review
Dir: Nanni Moretti, 2006, Italy/France, 112 mins, Italian with subtitles
Cast: Silvio Orlando, Margherita Buy, Jasmine Trinca, Michele Placido, Nanni Moretti
A daring attempt to mix broad comedy, family-based drama and political satire, Nanni Moretti’s The Caiman was a huge success when it was released in Italy early last year, but for many it has had implications far beyond the confines of the box office. The Caiman is a film that directly attacks Italy’s then Prime Minister Silvio Burlesconi, and it has been suggested that its strategic release shortly before the 2006 elections helped Romano Prodi secure a narrow victory over Burlesconi.
Now the dust has settled on Burlesconi’s term in office, can Italy’s answer to Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004) stand on its own as an enjoyable piece of cinema? Well, yes and no. The Caiman is a curious film that straddles various styles and genres while never really cohering into a satisfying whole, but it remains very watchable as it details the travails of struggling movie producer Bruno (Orlando). He is desperately trying to salvage both his marriage and his studio when a script called The Caiman falls into his lap. After reading just a few pages, he mistakenly believes he has an action thriller on his hands, and he instantly agrees to help the film’s young writer/director (Trinca) in bringing the story to the big screen.
It quickly dawns on Bruno that this screenplay is in fact a thinly-veiled roman à clef about Burlesconi, attacking his shady dealings and monopoly of the media; but while Moretti’s film was undoubtedly a major event for its intended audience, the picture’s most directly satirical aspects might well be lost on those of us who don’t have a detailed knowledge of Italian politics. In fact, those viewers might be better off looking past The Caiman’s political intent to the more straightforward pleasures offered by the other strands of Moretti’s story.
The Caiman is on much surer ground when focusing on Bruno’s troubled marriage to former actress Paola (Buy) and his attempts to stay close to his two children as their divorce progresses. The relationships between the various members of the Bonomo family feel natural and true, and these scenes are quietly affecting. Moretti also gets fine performances from everyone in his cast - from Trinca’s sweet idealist to Placido’s pervy actor - and at the film’s centre Orlando gives a display as the beleaguered producer which is often tremendously funny while also remaining full of genuine feeling.
Moretti himself appears late in the film as a version of Burlesconi, his dialogue consisting of actual lines spoken by the former Italian Premier as he stands trial for illegal dealings, but this sequence offers a rather flat climax to a frustratingly uneven picture. There are moments of brilliance on show here, but Moretti can’t successfully marry the disparate elements together and the result is a bit of a mixed bag. It’s hard to see how much filmgoers in this country will get from The Caiman, but for Italians the film may have already served its purpose.