The Caiman

Issue section: 

Director: Nanni Moretti; Optimum Releasing, £17.99

Hopes were high when Nanni Moretti's The Caiman was released in cinemas to coincide with Berlusconi's 2006 re-election bid. The stage was set for battle between Italy's premier left wing comedian and Italy's right wing premier - the most hated and the longest continuous ruler since Mussolini.

The film tells the tale of a luckless movie producer (Silvio Orlando) at the point of divorce. Enter a bright young woman (Jasmine Trinca) with a film script that nails Berlusconi's corrupt rise from entrepreneurial businessman to media tycoon, and prime minister of a government whose main purpose seemed to keep himself and his friends from prison.

Scenes from the fictional film within a film and its chaotic production alternate with the producer's disintegrating family life. Nanni Moretti uses the fictional producer as a surrogate to dramatise his usual anxiety over the bourgeois family and the future of socialism.

Focussing the story on how the politicised filmmaker can confront his opponent imprints the director's stamp while proposing a conundrum voiced during a brief onscreen appearance of Moretti as himself: "Everybody knows all there is to know about Berlusconi. There's nothing left to tell!"

The Caiman represents a Berlusconi in possession of all that the left lacks: wealth, self-assurance, an easygoing populism, and above all success.

So if the left hoped for a cause for celebration, Moretti's spumante arrived at the pre-election party a little flat. Rather than provide a Michael Moore style political weapon, the film embodies the mood of a centre-left unable to assert itself against a buffoonish and hated opponent.

The film's real life footage of Berlusconi, his puffed up arrogance the natural accoutrement to his vacuous shamelessness, calling a German MEP a Nazi in a European parliament debate, reveals a theatrical grotesquery that the fiction, in this case neither bitingly funny nor particularly dramatic, cannot match.

If anyone were worried that the tradition of Italian political cinema is turning into Italian apolitical cinema, they would not be reassured by The Caiman. With perhaps unintentional prescience, the film's inability to stand up for its own existence preceded a shocking virtual stalemate in the ensuing real life elections.

The terminally weak and probably short-lived victory the left did manage confirmed that just as in parliament, the very real vitality of Italy's radical social movements remains yet to find expression in cinema.