In Nanni Moretti's eagerly awaited The Caiman, there are all of four different Silvio Berlusconis. Though three of them are fictional and therefore subject to the whims and manipulations of Moretti's screenplay, the most frightening of the group is easily the real Berlusconi, seen in newsreel footage so completely outrageous that one can only chuckle in dismay. The media mogul/former Prime Minister is an obvious, easy target for any filmmaker as proficient and political as Moretti, so it's disappointing that his film is less a scathing indict of the Berlusconi regime than a resuscitation of his well-known violations and offenses.
The three fictional Berlusconis are all actors playing the starring role in a movie being made within Moretti's film, also entitled The Caiman ("Il Caimano" is a common media nickname for the former Prime Minister), and also planned as a crushing blow on its target. Schlock horror producer Bruno Bonomo (Silvio Orlando), who hasn't made a movie in a decade, falls into the film entirely by accident, and by default it becomes his comeback feature. The screenplay was written by Theresa (Jasmine Trinca) and, despite major concerns on the part of the only producer who doesn't run from the project because of its political nature, she's hired to make her directorial debut with the film. There are, needless to say, endless problems with the production, and in the end there's only enough money to shoot a single day in the life of the Caiman.
Interwoven with the story of Theresa's movie is the other side of Bruno's life: His disintegrating marriage. He and his wife Paola (Margherita Buy) separated six months earlier (though they only just told their young sons, who thought Dad wasn't sleeping at home because he was shooting a movie at night), and he's so far proved incapable of accepting that the marriage is over. While Bruno is initially quite sympathetic -- the scenes of him telling the boys bedtime stories as bloody as his films have a sweet, disarming charm -- his reactions to Paola's attempts to move on with her life are so aggressive and disruptive that they build an insurmountable wall between him and the audience. From that point on, we're unable to feel any sympathy for Bruno, and the scenes of his suffering become tiresome rather than affecting. Additionally, Moretti's portrayal of the lonely, despondent Bruno is uncharacteristically heavy-handed, executed largely with long, isolating shots and loud, sad music. Surely Moretti is capable of delving further into the character and explaining why we should care, rather than trying to drag us along through simple aural manipulation.
Despite the presence of the always magnificent Michele Placido as the most interesting of the sometime-Berlusconis, the film sadly fails to capture either our attention or our emotions. The final fate of the fictional Berlusconi is chilling in the way it pushes the man's possibilities to an extreme, but a solid last two minutes do not make a persuasive film; in the end, The Caiman is a huge disappointment. Saddled with admittedly huge expectations, the movie is ordinary in every way. Though anyone who dares to attack Berlusconi in his home country (he was Prime Minister when the movie was made and released, and continues to control much of the country's media) deserves our respect, one would have thought a man of Moretti's talent would have done so with more dynamism and spark.