[Marxism] A Casa Nostra

Louis Proyect 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

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 country’s transmutation from 
postwar prosperity to the widespread venality she 
says has taken root in the national soul.

The indictment, though harsh, takes no sides. 
“It’s 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 that’s 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 they’re 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 country’s 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 Italy’s 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 Comencini’s 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 Milan’s 
merits: 80,000 people who do volunteer social 
work; 10,000 tickets a year sold to cultural 
events; 40 percent of Italy’s scientific patents are developed in this city.

But some people, like the journalist Gianni 
Barbacetto, the film’s 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 
movie’s 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 that’s 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 film’s 
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 wasn’t 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.

“What’s new is the money,” she said. “And, 
especially during the last 20 years, the idea 
that it’s 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 Italy’s most 
memorable and gentle comedies. Her sister Paola 
is one of Italy’s best-known screenwriters; 
another, Cristina, directed a film, “La Bestia 
Nel Cuore” (“Don’t 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 doesn’t know it,” Ms. 
Comencini said. “That’s 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 don’t get them back.”

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