[Marxism] A Casa Nostra
lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Nov 23 11:50:53 MST 2006
(Just by coincidence, this film covers the same
basic territory that I have been covering for the
past two months centered on the Sicilian Mafia.)
NY Times, November 23, 2006
A Cinematic View of Italy as Morally Bankrupt
By ELISABETTA POVOLEDO
MILAN, Nov. 20 The lunchtime patter of a group
of businessmen during the first few frames of A
Casa Nostra (In Our House) neatly encapsulates
the mindset of Italian capitalism as envisioned
by the director Francesca Comencini. The men chat
about food, soccer, insider trading.
The scene sets the tone. A Casa Nostra is
essentially a film about money, about what it can
buy and what people will do to get their hands on
it (out of necessity or greed), whether it is
selling their bodies, their possessions or their souls.
It is also about Italy today as the director sees
it, a cinematic final curtain on the capitalist
myth and this countrys transmutation from
postwar prosperity to the widespread venality she
says has taken root in the national soul.
The indictment, though harsh, takes no sides.
Its a political film, but not an ideological
one, Ms. Comencini said during an interview in
Rome, where she lives. Today money is at the
heart of contemporary Italian culture, and people think thats normal.
But with that comes an inexorable barbarization
of everyday life, she added, and the loss of
values that may be difficult to recover once theyre gone.
The title also plays on the notion of Cosa
Nostra, the name given to the Sicilian Mafia, to
convey the sense of a group of criminals
plundering the countrys financial and ethical resources.
Italy, she believes, has misplaced its moral
compass. This is evinced in the film by a
kaleidoscopic interplay of story lines that
center on the main plot, which involves rigging
the financial markets to take over a bank. The
story seems lifted straight from the recent front
pages of any Italian newspaper.
The movie could have been set anywhere, Ms.
Comencini said, but Milan was the obvious choice
for a film about money because it is Italys financial capital.
The choice of setting caused a series of polemics
even before the film opened in Italy in early
November. Mayor Letizia Moratti of Milan
disdainfully dismissed it. Milan is far more
than what Comencinis film would depict it to
be, she said on a national news television
broadcast. Milan is much more beautiful. She
offered viewers a statistical tour of Milans
merits: 80,000 people who do volunteer social
work; 10,000 tickets a year sold to cultural
events; 40 percent of Italys scientific patents are developed in this city.
But some people, like the journalist Gianni
Barbacetto, the films adviser on the intricacies
of recent Italian corruption scandals, interpret
the criticism as an act of love for the city by telling things as they are.
Though reviews have been almost unanimously
positive, a smattering of catcalls greeted the
movies first public screening at the Rome Film
Festival last month. These were prompted,
suggested Paolo Mereghetti, the film critic for
the Milan daily Corriere Della Sera, by the
perplexity of seeing a film thats out of place
in the Italian panorama, far from the facile,
flowery and allegorical folklore that seems to be
the only language accepted in the cinema and in
television, where everything is excessively
spelled out, excessively shown off, excessively
forced. After a diet of lighthearted comedies
poking fun at the national character, Italians
are not used to having their dark side laid bare.
Operatic arias by Verdi are the films
soundtrack, underscoring the melodramatic
counterpoint of intersecting story lines that
play off the antagonism between an unscrupulous
banker and the police officer trying to unravel his unlawful dealings.
If some of the dialogue seems familiar, that is
because it sounds like the transcripts of
wiretaps in newspaper accounts of real-life dirty deals and scandals.
Francesca wanted to decant reality into
something that wasnt a documentary, said Mr.
Barbacetto, who has covered many Italian
corruption scandals for Il Diario magazine. At
the same time, she wanted to make a film that went beyond current events.
A result is the depiction of a society mired in
moral ambiguity and selective law abidance.
History shows, Ms. Comencini said, that Italians
have always had a highhanded relationship with
rules and legality and an ambiguous relationship
with democracy. But in the past, institutions
like the Roman Catholic Church and the strongly
ideological political parties in Italy helped
keep individual ambitions in check.
Whats new is the money, she said. And,
especially during the last 20 years, the idea
that its O.K. to use power and rules for personal profit.
A second, equally powerful leitmotif concerns
maternity and the inability to procreate, and
this too is a direct reference to real life:
Italy has one of the lowest birthrates in the world.
Our fertility rate is low because Italy is
desperate without knowing it, Ms. Comencini
said. It is hedonistic, but not happy. She
added, You have to sense that a moral cradle
exists before you go about having children.
If Italy has a royal family of cinema, Ms.
Comencini is part of it. During a career that
spanned nearly six decades, her father, Luigi
Comencini, directed some of Italys most
memorable and gentle comedies. Her sister Paola
is one of Italys best-known screenwriters;
another, Cristina, directed a film, La Bestia
Nel Cuore (Dont Tell), that was nominated for
best foreign film at the 2006 Academy Awards.
Never one to shirk from telling a tough tale,
Francesca Comencini directed earlier feature
films that focused on harassment in the workplace
and on the death of a 23-year-old
antiglobalization protester at the G-8 summit
meeting in Genoa, Italy, in 2001. But A Casa
Nostra exudes a particular sense of urgency, as
if Ms. Comencini believed that time was running out for Italian society.
This is also our house, said the actress
Valeria Golino, who plays the police officer,
when confronting the banker with his moral bankruptcy.
But this is no straightforward morality tale.
There is no happy ending, only lots of loose ends.
Italy has lost, but doesnt know it, Ms.
Comencini said. Thats why a film like this is
necessary, so people can become aware.
In her mind, however, it may already be too late,
because there are some things that once you lose
them, you dont get them back.
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