An interview with one of Italy’s greatest
contemporary actor-directors.

It’s always reassuring to know that high flyers suffer from self-doubt. Today – despite his reputation as the finest Italian director of his generation, along with a Palme d’Or and countless native awards as proof – Nanni Moretti is admitting to entertaining doubts about his own abilities.

‘Let’s just say that 30 years ago, when I started making films, I felt much more secure than I do now,’ he smiles, ruefully. ‘When I started out, I made fewer problems for myself. Today, though, I have mini crises every day. Not big ones that make me think I don’t want to do this film anymore, but I question my ability every day – more so now than three decades ago.’

There’s little reason for him to feel this way, of course. His appearance at the Times BFI London Film Festival, where we meet, is a triumphant one – he’s presenting his film Il Caimano, an anti-Berlusconi polemic interwoven with a fictional story about the break-up of a family. The movie – released in the run-up to the general election in Italy in 2006 – was the first mainstream film that dared tackle the subject of the cavaliere and his past, and it caused such a stir that Moretti was even credited with swinging the election those few precious inches in Prodi’s favour.

Stranger than Fiction?

But today, rather than jubilant, Moretti seems worn out. ‘Memory isn’t our strong point,’ he says, when asked whether it was difficult for his public to have played back to them the behaviour of the man they chose to elect. ‘It’s not the principle ingredient for us Italians.’

What they did find difficult, he says, is being able to distinguish the truth from the fiction in the film. The behaviour of Il Caimano’s eponymous character seems so extreme that you wonder whether his words are exaggerated. At the end of the film, having been found guilty of corruption and condemned to prison by a judge, he storms out of court declaring that he will only be tried by the public who elected him. This may sound like a stupid question, but is this invention or did it really happen?

‘It’s not stupid at all,’ he laughs. ‘Even an Italian would ask that, and they should actually know the answer. Berlusconi has never been found guilty, but that speech is taken word for word from an invective he made on video three years ago against the judiciary. He sent it to the TV stations and they transmitted it in its entirety.’ Throughout the film, he intersperses archive footage of Berlusconi with the cinematic rendition to drive his point home even more.

Funding the Project

…for a film on Berlusconi, that no one wanted to do, I wanted
my colleagues to be near me in solidarity

Il Caimano’s protagonist, Bruno, is terrified about making a film about Berlusconi, but Moretti claims that he was never afraid: ‘Not because I’m particularly brave, but because it was a story I wanted to tell.’ Funding, however, wasn’t so straightforward – ‘It would have been impossible for a first-time director,’ he admits. Having never accepted any money from Berlusconi’s Mediaset and eschewing money from RAI, the Italian broadcasting network, (‘I would have felt embarrassed’), he turned to France, which came up with the goods.

Continuing in the Moretti tradition, it’s a self-referential film – focused around a film set, Moretti playing himself, and a line-up of Italy’s finest contemporary directors (including Paolo Sorrentino, Michele Placido and Paolo Virzu) in bit parts. ‘Consciously, there are two reasons for their presence,’ he says. ‘Firstly, I often call on non-acting friends to play small roles. Then there are parts that I thought should be played by people from the world of film – I wanted the famous actor (Placido) to be someone from the cinema, I wanted the old director (Giuliano Montaldo, director of Sacco e Vanzetti) to be a director, not an actor.

‘But maybe there’s another, subconscious, motive,’ he admits. ‘It’s as if for a film on Berlusconi, that no one wanted to do, I wanted my colleagues to be near me in solidarity.’

Directing Directors

You might think that using fellow directors as actors would induce embarrassment in Moretti as he directed them – and you’d probably be right. ‘The biggest embarrassment is that when I film, I think they do fewer takes – when I think I’m being slow or I know they’re faster.’ And what about the other way round – when Moretti acts for other directors? ‘I know I’m an actor who can only do a few things,’ he says. ‘But only being an actor does me good.’ Does he never suggest he’d film a scene differently? He laughs. ‘I don’t say it, I just do it myself.’

For a meticulously private person, as Moretti is, it seems odd that he plays himself – or a version of himself – in all his films. How does he square the two? ‘It’s me who decides how to present myself,’ he insists. ‘Fifteen years ago I had a tumour, but I didn’t go and talk about it in front of millions of people on TV. I talked about it on my own terms in my film Caro Diario. If I want to talk about myself, I stylise it into a film.’

Piece of Cake But with so many Morettis flying around, it’s no wonder that myths have sprung up – right down to the name of his production company, Sacher Films. ‘It’s not my favourite cake,’ he groans. ‘Every so often someone comes along and says, ‘I’ve brought you a surprise’- and I already know what it is. It’s a quote from a line in my film Bianca, and it was a sound I liked, because in Italian it sounds like sacro, and then there’s Sacher von Masoch (the ‘inventor’ of masochism) as well.

So is film-making masochism for him? ‘There are tiring phases,’ he admits. ‘The shooting is the most stressful – perhaps that’s why I like to surround myself with friends.

Il Caimano is the first time that I’m not the protagonist because it’s very tiring directing and being the main character.’

Speaking of which, he’s been quoted as saying that he’s not really a director – that he makes films only when he has something to say. Does that still stand? ‘What I mean is that I don’t make films for the sake of making them,’ he says. ‘When I have a sense of urgency to recount a feeling, I turn that feeling into film. I like cinema, but I want to be able to say something through it.’ He needn’t worry – with praise being heaped on Il Caimano and a possible election victory under his belt, it’s safe to assume that feeling’s probably been heard.