Saturday, June 11, 2005

Review: Caterina in The Big City

Last night, I saw Caterina va in citta (in English, Caterina either Goes to The City or in The Big City) at the Landmark Sunshine on East Houston Street. The movie itself was wonderful, once again enlivening my faith in foreign films.

It begins as a deceptively simple coming-of-age story about a young girl on the brink of teenagerhood, moving with her teacher father and housewife mother to Rome from an area known to her future big-city classmates as "hillbilly haven." The movie then explores the similarities and differences between the contemporary left and right of Italian politics through a few families of the movers and shakers in Rome. First one side latches onto Caterina, then the other, in the way that established "cliques" -- whether teeny-boppers or adults -- are interested in winning over their newcomers. Caterina is constantly branded as "old-fashioned" because she hasn't yet started to affect the city's cynicism. She likes choral music and conducts unabashedly to the singing in her headphones, much to the delight of an Australian boy (who speaks very good Italian) who lives across the courtyard and later reveals to her the secrets he has discovered about her family. The father meanwhile is a hopeless social climber, who at the same time is tactless enough to rave madly from the audience of a TV talk show about how the established elite keep new ideas (and him) out.

After getting so tired sometimes of our culture wars here in America, I really enjoyed how the movie portrayed similar (but different) wrangling in modern-day Italy and what it had to say about the debates. There's a really revealing scene where a government minister from the right and a faded philosophe from the left find themselves in the headmaster's office trying to reconcile their daughters after a schoolyard fight. The session ends with the daughters insulting each other, but outside the fathers, who are supposed to hate each other, shake hands and joke about the world Caterina's father can only dream about.

At times, Caterina's father seems a bit too much of a caricature, but the rest of the characters are rich in detail, multisided, and fun to watch. And Caterina manages to retain an individual and innocent charm throughout the tug of war among other girls at school.

***

After the movie, people enjoyed it so much that they clapped. And as the classical music played and the credits rolled, some girls of indeterminate age got up and started dancing and improvising ballet-style in front of the screen. Those still left in the seats also found this pretty funny and clapped for the dancers.

Before the film, in the men's second-floor bathroom, where there is only one stall, and two urinals, a bit of an old man's cockfight ensued as a frustrated guy standing on the outside of the stall yelled in to the toilet's occupant, "Aw, hurry up already." Less than a minute later, we heard a flush and another old man stepped out to the sink area and said something along the lines of: "Were you talking to me? I had to wait just like you! You shouldn't've sat there in the theater, reading all those credits you don't understand, and instead, come out sooner like me." Another guy in the tiny restroom who'd been hearing all this was beside himself with laughter and looked at me as we were leaving: "Drama in the men's room!" he said.

1 comment:

Naim Peress said...

Dear Jeremy,

I liked your account of the fight in the men's bathroom. It was quite amusing.

I liked the film too. I found it interesting to see the kids in the school debating politics. If you saw kids in America doing the same, you'd think you were dreaming. Perhaps you'd like to see what I thought of the film at www.cultureasaurus.blogspot.com. Take care.

Naim