Nanni Moretti

from Palombella Rossa

Nanni Moretti is sometimes compared to Woody Allen.  He writes, directs, and often appears as a major character in his films.  Though his tone is humorous, Moretti considers politics, life and death, the future of cinema, and other less cursory things that make you not laugh so much as think very hard afterward about you just saw.

Otherwise, I don’t think that the comparison between the two men is just.  Moretti is very athletic, for instance.  In his last movie, Habeas Papem, he plays a psychiatrist who coaches a team of cardinals in the Vatican in volleyball.  Moretti is quite capable of instructing how to spike the ball.  He is lean, and tall, and coordinated.  

Still, one of the first Moretti films I saw, Palombella Rossa, was about two things: communism and water polo. Moretti was the lead, and he spent most of the film dressed in one of those water polo helmets that are inherently funny to look at.   He was on the national Italian team when he was in his twenties, and was obviously very good at it.

The night I saw him in person, after the screening of Il Caimano (thanks to IFC which is running a retrospective of his work), he spoke with a translator about why he made the movie.  The movie is about a movie producer who up until a woman hands him a screenplay,  has only made grade B movies that are strictly genre pieces and sort of laughable, but cult hits.  The new screenplay is an open critique of Berlusconi’s regime,  a very serious movie,  that shows how he has stripped Italy of its democracy and put himself above the law.

Moretti said that he wanted to show the Italian people what they were used to seeing but because they were so used to seeing it, it had lost all sense of its danger.  He wanted to show the dangerous side of Berlusconi.  He avoided  the bits about Berlusconi’s cosmetic surgery and his fascination with young women.  The real danger was in how he subverted democracy by outwitting the judiciary who had prosecuted him for financial fraud and conflict of interest.

After Moretti spoke at length about the making of the movie about Berlusconi, through a charming translator who was able to keep up with his spirited and quick witted commentary in Italian, the director wanted to show us two minutes from an earlier film, the film about water polo and communism.  The reason was long in being explained.  The scene included an old friend of Moretti who had been cast as one o f the water polo players. In the scene, the coach wanted the slender, even slight of build teammate to act as point  guard to a big burly Hungarian.  At this point, the dialogue called for the man to object simply by saying “I am scared.”

Which the actor/friend did.  But Moretti insisted on his saying the line twenty six more times, taking another two full minutes to do it, goading him on all the while.  The man is still playing water polo, Moretti explained, but I am no longer his friend.  He never spoke to me again after that. 

The point of the story was to demonstrate how obsessive he is as a director to be sure that everything is just right.  Each take that the young man made was better than the next, even though the first one was perfectly good.  I wonder where that man is now, and if it is true that they are no longer friends.


About Patricia Markert

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