The Caiman (Il Caimano) (2006)

The Caiman first published by Film4

Summary: In his first film since 2001’s The Son’s Room, Nanni Moretti snaps his satirical teeth at film, politics, family – and Silvio Berlusconi.

Review: Bruno Bonomo (Silvio Orlando), a neurotic producer with a string of schlocky ‘fascist’ films from the Seventies to his name, is now struggling to stay afloat. His latest project has just lost its director (Giuliano Montaldo), the banks are demanding his debts be repaid, and his marriage to former star Paola (Margherita Buy) is hitting the skids. When chance brings a new screenplay, entitled ‘The Caiman’ and written by young director Teresa (Jasmine Trinca), into Bruno’s hands, he mistakes it for an action movie and decides to take it on – but even after he has realised that it is instead an excoriating satirical attack on Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, whom Bruno has previously supported, he decides to back the film anyway, finding in the process a renewed sense of purpose and commitment.

When Marco Pulici (Michele Placido), the big-name actor hired to mimic Berlusconi, is shown video footage of the genuine article, he complains of his subject’s lack of charisma. “My Caiman”, he says, “has to be multi-faceted, more nuanced.” And so he will be – for at various points in The Caiman (Il Caimano), Italy’s Prime Minister is portrayed by three different actors including, in the end, even the film’s director/co-writer/co-producer, Nanni Moretti himself – who, as a staunch leftist, is the last person one might expect to incarnate the industrialist leader. Earlier in the film, Moretti had been glimpsed turning down the rôle of Berlusconi (“we already know all about him”), on the grounds that he was busy writing a comedy – that comedy being, no doubt, The Caiman itself.

All of which is to say that The Caiman is like with a political twist. To be sure, it is the first Italian film to tackle head-on Berlusconi and his legacy, and its release in Italy just before the 2006 general elections was intended to influence their outcome (for the record, Berlusconi lost); but at the same time The Caiman is a film about a film, wrapping in on itself and its own clever-cleverness as our director explores the boundaries that exist between cinematic fictions and political realities. At first Bruno may seem ill-suited to producing a satire on Berlusconi, but then his sleazy z-grade works have always been devoted to the dangerous escapades of larger-than-life reactionary outlaws, making the Italian ruler the perfect living embodiment of his action hero of choice. 

The problem, though, is that Moretti struggles to strike the right balance between agitprop and drama. On the one hand, the collapse of Bruno’s career and family serves as a metaphor for the ruins of Berlusconi’s Italy, and the desperation with which Bruno clings to the project that has fallen into his lap is made to mirror Berlusconi’s own determined grip on money and power through all manner of adversities – all of which enables The Caiman, as both film and film-within-film, to organise itself around a satisfying set of structural echoes. On the other hand, viewed purely in terms of his character, Bruno’s damascene conversion to a more ethically driven, left-leaning kind of cinema never really makes any sense, while the connections between his domestic woes and the broader political situation seem largely artificial. It is as though Moretti has forced the political and the personal to coexist in this film, without thinking through how they affect one another, so that, while some viewers will like the divorce dramedy, and others the political satire, fewer, one suspects, will like both. Like Bruno’s young, Lego-obsessed son Andrea (Daniele Rampollo), you will search in vain for “that tiny piece” that could bring the whole structure together into a coherent whole. 

Add to this some rather laboured film pastiches, and a portrayal of Berlusconi that, though groundbreaking for Italian cinema, reveals little about the man with which non-Italians will not already be familiar, and you are left with a lukewarm and overlong film that is saved only by its amiable performances.

Verdict: It’s a brave film that takes on Italy’s most notorious political heavyweight – but one can only assume that it was the accumulation of Berlusconi’s own indiscretions that cost him the 2006 elections, rather than the muted blows of this aimlessly incoherent and over-clever satire. 

© Anton Bitel