Nanni Moretti on The Caiman
When I first heard that Nanni Moretti, virulent leftist and Palme D’Or winner for The Son’s Room, had made a film about former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, releasing it just when Italians were finally giving the media magnate and AC Milan owner the boot, I assumed The Caiman would be incisive and incendiary.
When I finally saw the film, however, it wasn’t at all what I expected. The Caiman is—and isn’t—about Berlusconi. Moretti’s film is really two movies in one, neither of which is necessarily a thematic cousin to the other.
Bruno Bonomo (Silvio Orlando) is a washed-up B-movie director. Since making his final camp masterpiece, Cataracts (starring his wife, played by Margherita Buy), 10 years ago, Bruno has been locked out of the industry. Now his marriage is on the rocks. And in Italy, when your career is floundering and your woman wants out, that’s a serious blow to your manhood. One day, attending a film festival screening of Cataracts, Bruno is approached by a gorgeous, aspiring young director (Jasmine Trinca) with the script for a film called The Caiman (an alligator to the layperson). Without really reading it, Bruno pitches the script to RAI—the country’s independent TV network—only to discover later that it is in fact about Berlusconi’s rise to power. Making a movie about the sitting Prime Minister (and the country’s most powerful private citizen) is no easy feat. But, as his marriage crumbles, Bruno realises that getting The Caimanmade is paramount to the maintenance of his sense of balance and potency.
While Moretti presents us with small snippets of Berlusconi’s story, presented as a film-within-a-film, it is Bruno’s struggle with domestic instability (and the constant loss of his actors) that keeps The Caiman moving forward. In fact, it is only at the end of his film that Moretti shifts his focus to Berlusconi. There, as young Teresa begins her shoot, we see Moretti step into the Prime Minister’s role, confronting the courts’ accusations of corruption. For Moretti, who usually plays, a la Woody Allen, the lead role in his films, the decision to play Berlusconi was an important political act.
“Berlusconi’s words, coming out of his own mouth, do not effect or impress anyone,” the director explains. “His charm and eloquence have guarded him, preventing people from seeing who he really is. People no longer perceive the gravity of his words. I thought, what if his words are given to the audience from the mouth of someone completely different? Then the audience would be better able to understand the gravity and the threat of what he was saying.”
Unfortunately, too many excellent dramatic and comedic moments in The Caiman are overshadowed by the lack of cohesion between Bruno’s story and Moretti’s film-within-a-film. Moretti’s argument? His film is about the cultural vices plaguing Italy and their intimate connection to the country’s blind disregard for Berlusconi’s malevolence. “I’ve been thinking about making a film about Berlusconi’s political adventures for a very long time, ever since he got into politics,” he says. “But I’ve always struggled with how to do it—whether as a documentary or as a fictional narrative. I’ve come to see that the Berlusconi story didn’t deserve an entire film.”
The real story, Moretti maintains, is about the larger conversation that takes place between Bruno and Tersa, the young filmmaker. “I wanted to make a film about the meeting between two very different people,” the director argues. “People with different ideas about politics, different ideas about cinema and different lifestyles.” To Moretti, that union is exactly what’s needed in post-Berlusconi Italy. “Ten years ago,” he says, “a Communist sympathiser and a sympathiser with the Christian Democratic party had different views, but they could communicate because they had common values. Since Berlusconi entered politics, no one on different sides of the political spectrum can communicate anymore. The common values are gone. The next leap that Italy needs is to find that set of common values again.”