Caterina in the Big City (9/10)

by Tony Medley

Poor Caterina Iacovoni (13-year-old Alice Teghil, making her film debut with no acting experience). Her father, Giancarlo (Sergio Castellitto) is an angry, upwardly mobile accounting teacher in an isolated area of Italy. Her mother, Agata (Margherita Buy) is a sweet and pretty but provincial woman who is psychologically battered by Giancarlo.

Giancarlo finally gets a new teaching position in Rome, so he uproots his family and they flee to Rome where Giancarlo enrolls Caterina in a ritzy school and urges her to befriend the daughters of the privileged.

Caterina, who is a shy, sweet, unsophisticated girl, tries to go along but she is thrust into the maelstrom between the schoolís two movers-and-shakers: Margherita, daughter of a famed leftist writer and intellectual, who leads the schoolís leftists, and Daniela, child of a rising member of the current conservative national government, who is, naturally, conservative. While she is courted by each group, her father constantly makes a fool of himself trying to get ahead by contacting his daughterís friendsí prominent parents.

Directed by Paolo Virzi, who also co-wrote the script with Francesco Bruni, this is a brilliant examination of a young girlís turbulent year of discovery and self-awareness, as she watches the deterioration of her father and the disintegration of her parentsí marriage. Giancarlo is selfishly pathetic. While he treats Agata with condescension, the upper classes to which he so fervently aspires treat him with equal condescension, further angering him.

Virzi views Caterina as a metaphor for present day Italy, ďspellbound by a haughty Left depressed by its feelings of defeat, and, at the same time, charmed and confused by a fun-loving, vulgar and unhappy New Right.Ē Unfortunately, Virzi lets his leftist political views influence the making of the story. Instead of viewing both extremes as equally reprehensible, he paints the right with far more vivid colors than he does Margherita, the representative of the left, who is presented far more sympathetically.

The film is also greatly damaged by the subtitles, which are among the worst Iíve seen. When the subtitles are white and the background is white, itís impossible to read them. This seems so obvious, but films continue to be released with unreadable subtitles. How the film industry can create mind-boggling special effects, but canít find the technology to prevent white on white and black on black subtitles continues to be a conundrum.

Teghil is nothing short of brilliant. Itís almost impossible to believe that she had never acted before and that she was only 13 years old when she made this movie in 2003. Castellitto is equally brilliant in portraying a psychologically deviant father and husband. That I enjoyed this film about a teenaged girl so much was a complete surprise to me. (In Italian with subtitles).

June 11, 2005