For someone he’s a genius, for others an idiot. There are those who deeply love him and those who cannot stand him. The fact is that his cinema is more unique than rare. I’m talking about Nanni Moretti, the director deeply dividing Italian and international cinema audience. But before talking about his cinema it is appropriate to mention about his character, or better still about his person. This is because Moretti made his fortune by speaking about himself, telling himself to the viewer without filters, openly lining up practically everything. In forty years of cinema we have learned to know him, to understand his tastes, his obsessions and his desires. But this “self-referential” cinema has never been an end in itself.
He guided us with a smile or tears in his eyes in existential reflections, among which what is my place in the world?
In these successive lines, we are going to shed some light on his cinema, which is easily outlined in two different macro-phases, the first light and comic, the latter more mature and dramatic. Perhaps this indexing can be resizing, it is, however, useful to shed light within the vast Morettian cinematography. Nanni Moretti, in the course of his career, won a lot of prizes, being always esteemed by the Cannes and Venice juries. In fact, we can define him as one of our country’s emblematic directors even though his films are often low budget and unintelligible products.
The first phase of Moretti’s cinema started almost as a joke, at the beginning of the seventies, with the direction of some short and medium-length films, unfortunately, today difficult to find, including Come parli frate? and La sconfitta. The first real feature film comes a few years later, entitled Io sono un autarchico, it’s the story of the upper-class Rome adolescence, which today we would label as radical chic, following the 1968 revolts, in that period it seemed everyone had to be interested in politics. On the other hand politics, however central in these early films, is not the real fulcrum. The focus is in fact on the youth’s immobilism with regard to social problems. It is important to point out that since this first work Moretti, Michele Apicella, Moretti’s alter ego entered the scene under the spotlight. In all these early films Michele, in fact, became the character through which the Roman director, strictly interpreted by himself, gives vent to his most intimate passions.
This first film starts off quietly, despite managing to win a nomination for Nastro d’Argento as best new director. Io sono un autarchico is followed by Ecce Bombo, one of Moretti’s iconic films, the cross-section story of a group of university students from the 1970s Rome in which the scene, now in the public domain, stands out where Michele Apicella is intenty escaping a party invitation.
This second feature is nominated for the Golden Palm at Cannes as the best film which it, unfortunately, fails to win.
The release follows of many other Moretti films, which put the director increasingly in the international spotlight, but above all, they gift us of out of lines comedy scenes having today become of public knowledge often mentioned without even knowing their origin. Among these films, we mention Bianca,Palombella rossa, La cosa and Caro Diario, a film that finally managed to win a best director Cannes prize.
It is indeed undeniable that Nanni Moretti’s direction, as much as it may seem amateurish and improvised, is instead full of originality and innovation. In fact, Caro diario is an extremely autobiographical film, where for the first time Moretti does not resort to Michele Apicella. In fact, in this movie Moretti guides us inside his Rome, letting us discover his favorite locations such as Garbatella and Piazza Mazzini, we witness the frustrating creative method behind Nanni’s films and above all we touch the director’s most intimate side: his illness. All these contents, however, are not shoved with arrogance into the viewer. Not at all. They are told without giving up Moretti’s typical weird irony which we have learned to grasp and appreciate over the years.
The second phase of his cinema is in some ways profoundly different starting at the end of the millennium. His second phase films analyze different problems. On the other hand, with the advent of maturity, human questions and priorities also change. La stanza del figlio, a 2001 film, is its emblem. La stanza del figlio is the first real Moretti’s dramatic film who treats a father’s mourning for his son’s death. The film is extremely touching and at times very dark, but it does not deny the self-describing matrix (where we still see many of the director’s fears taking shape on the screen). The son’s room succeeds, for the first time, in winning the much-coveted golden palm.
The director’s next movie is Il Caimano, a film narrates in parody, but also quite a bitter manner, the rise to power of Prime Minister Berlusconi, a matter Nanni Moretti has always devoted himself to, never renouncing to particularly heavy and direct criticism. In this film, for the first time we no longer see Nanni Moretti as an actor, but only as a writer and director. Despite the absence of the filmmaker within the cast, we find, however, other remarkable noteworthy faces, including Silvio Orlando, Margherita Buy and, in a small role, even his colleague Paolo Sorrentino. In the following years we will see screened in international cinemas other great titles signed by Moretti among which Habemus Papam and finally Mia Madre.
These two movies, in particular, the last one, once again deal with existential themes. Mia madre has not just been following, it reinvents the autobiographical path abandoned for some years: Nanni Moretti is in the cast, but not as the protagonist. The main character is instead Margherita Buy who plays the role of a Roman director hit by her mother’s death. During the film we see how the protagonist faces such loss and, as often happens in Nanni Moretti’s films, the meaning is found in small things.
The film, in fact, does not have a plot full of events and not even full of drama, but still manages to tell in a human and sober sometimes even ironic way, one of the tragedies in which sooner or later we will all find ourselves in. The Roman director’s last effort was recently released in theaters and is titled Santiago-Italia. This documentary on the Italian embassy during Pinochet’s dictatorship was not aggressively distributed. The director himself decided to convey it through more independent channels than usual, perhaps due to its radical diversity from his previous production. In any case, the documentary, made with declared stance, was fairly successful critically and we hope to have it soon available on streaming platforms
As you will have understood from these few lines, Nanni Moretti is a versatile character narrating through his own eyes his vision of life, always true and never aspiring to be something else. For this reason, you either love it or hate him, there is no middle ground. He is a 360 degrees protagonist of his films. Over the years we have learned what Moretti likes, hates and many of his quotations have become public knowledge and sometimes are even quoted by those who have nothing to do with Moretti. Over the years, however, we have also seen his cinema transform, we have seen that with maturity the themes dealt change, become darker, intensify and become decidedly more melancholic, but despite this he never ceased to be himself and has never renounced to display his naked life, it often turned out to be unpleasant and often instead aroused in us a great empathy, we sometimes had fun and sometimes got bored, but in the end life is made of all these little things and this is Nanni Moretti’s cinema.