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Bruno Bonomo (Silvio Orlando) was a famous producer of b-movies in 70s; after a long hiatus, following the commercial fiasco of "Cataratte", Bonomo is going to be signed by RAI in order to produce a film about Cristoforo Colombo's homecoming. When the director Franco Caspio (Giuliano Montaldo) quits the project, Bonomo is forced to offer another screenplay to RAI, which is "Il Caimano" a screenplay he stumbled upon, written by the young director Teresa (Jasmine Trinca). The film-in-the-film is centered on the figure of Italy's prime minister and media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi, a subject so controversial that even the public television refuse to produce it. While Bonomo's private life collapses piece by piece, as he's divorcing from his wife (Margherita Buy), and the bank is pressing him hard to pay back his long-standing debts, he finds out that struggling to get this movie filmed is the only thing that keeps him alive. Written by
Il Caimano belongs to the Nanni Moretti style of film-making that I prefer, film-making with the imaginative uniqueness, delightfully neurotic smart-ass polemic and personal flair of Palombella Rossa, as opposed to the near-documentary style of the (albeit very pleasant, but a tad too autobiographical) Aprile, or the more traditional drama of La Stanza Del Figlio. Il Caimano opens with a sequence very reminiscent of Bianca: a grotesque Communist party gathering in what looks very much like a classroom from the "Marilyn Monroe" high school featured in that surreal 1983 movie. It's a scene from "Cataracts", a B-movie produced by Bruno Bonomo (played with gusto by Moretti regular, the Neapolitan actor Silvio Orlando), responsible also for such "gems" as "Assassin Mocassins", "Maciste against Freud" and "Susy the Misogynist". Bruno is a bumbling, likable fool of a producer on the brink of professional and marital failure (Margherita Buy, a delightful 40+ Italian actress perhaps best known outside of Italy for the female lead in Ozpetek's Le Fate Ignoranti, plays his estranged wife, Paola).
One night, while settling into the lonely, make-shift bed Bruno sets up for himself in his office in the first phase of his marital separation, he is deeply struck by a screenplay a young director, Teresa, has given him in the hope of funding her first full-length feature, Il Caimano... Absurdly, Bruno decides to produce it without having read the screenplay in its entirety and more importantly, before having realised that "the caiman" of the title was none other than Berlusconi! Though this may surprise some, as Moretti himself has famously said, this movie isn't really about Berlusconi. This said, the sequences in which Bruno imagines some scenes from Teresa's movie do indeed re-enact familiar episodes in the rise to wealth and power of Italy's richest citizen, most notably the court-room scenes (at one point the Berlusconi character is accused of "going into politics in order not to go to jail"). Not to mention some real footage including Berlusconi's "joke" regarding a German member of the European Parliament being "perfect" for the role of a Nazi guard in a film (as an Italian citizen re-watching such footage makes you want to be instantly swallowed by the depths of the earth, but it's actually worth staying on the surface just to study the look of stunned, mortified, murderous embarrassment spreading onto Fini, Italy's then-vice-PM's face as his "boss" cracks the infamous "joke"!). Nanni's (as opposed to Teresa's) Il Caimano is about the creative process of an artist. It's also a disillusioned comment on a certain kind of Italian left-wing citizen that has arisen from Berlusconi's Italy, whom Nanni's cameo character in the movie describes in less than flattering terms for their spinelessness and pettiness. Artistic integrity, the power of money (not just Berlusconi's, but what wealth stands for in the creative process), and last but not least, personal and artistic success and failure are also other important themes present in the movie. Some comments on this board also include homosexuality and gay parenting as a theme of the movie, but to me these two elements were included into the story in such a matter-of-fact way, that they were no more thematic than a Julia Roberts romantic comedy is about heterosexuality.
Moretti is in top form as far as visual humour is concerned: the sequence of a gigantic suit-case-full of Italian banknotes from the 1970s falling through the ceiling and crashing onto a desk in the middle of an office, amid the earnest question: "Where did all that money come from?!", is among the most memorable of the last five years that I've seen. There's much of the trademark Moretti photographic flair in Il Caimano: a child's feet treading a sea of gawdily colourful lego pieces strewn all over a floor as if he were a fakir walking on hot coals, a group of young men and women gently swaying to Rachid Taha's infectious North African rhythms while painting the walls of the film set representing key moments in Berlusconi's life, a nocturnal scene with a reconstruction of one of Christopher Columbus's caravels "sailing" down a Roman Avenue called Cristoforo Colombo (only a Roman would know this!) there's even a nod to Fellini in the sequences of a historic movie being filmed on a beach just outside Rome, reminiscent of Lo Sceicco Bianco both in humour and visuals Il Caimano boasts some noteworthy performances (though I found some of the minor players a bit wooden): Teresa is played by Jasmine Trinca, a bright young star of contemporary Italian cinema, first seen playing Nanni Moretti's daughter in La Stanza del Figlio and then, to great critical acclaim, the mentally disturbed Giorgia in La Meglio Gioventù (The Best of Youth). Michele Placido, a performer I have never considered a favourite, has a ball playing the comically repulsive actor who is first cast to play Berlusconi in Teresa's movie, and is very funny in the process. Polish star Jerzy Stuhr, known to international audiences for the lead roles in Kieslowski's Three Colours: White, and Dekalog 10, plays the rich Polish producer Sturavsky, a chorus-like character who provides the bemused "foreigner's" point of view on the absurd Italian situation (an essential Nanni ingredient in Aprile, for instance, it was a French journalist who covered that role )
For all its delightful humour Il Caimano is also (predictably) a bitter movie, and also a deeply allegorical one (see the final sequences for instance). On whether Berlusconi will win the next elections (meaning the ones that have just passed), Nanni Moretti's cameo character prophetically says: "He has already won" according to this movie and Nanni Moretti himself, the caiman's steady, corrosive action onto Italian culture which has been dumbed down beyond recognition, the damage he has inflicted on all aspects of life that'll take decades to mend, the opportunistic cynicism he has left as a legacy to his citizens, are battles that he has steadily been winning for the last 20 years.
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