“If growing up is the process of creating ideas and dreams about what life should be, then maturity is letting go again.” – Mary Beth Danielson
Imagine you’re an adolescent. Living in the sticks, with a normal family, the usual assortment of relatives, having simple interests and having been raised in a protected environment. Suddenly your world changes. You have to move to the big city, change schools, leave behind all of your friends and have to cope with an environment, which is as different from what you have been used to as you can imagine. What would it be like?
This is the question that Italian moviemaker Paolo Virzì asks in his 2003 film “Caterina va in Città” (Caterina Goes to the City; US: “Caterina in the Big City”). We watched this movie yesterday and enjoyed it greatly. It is a coming of age film with a difference, as it put a seemingly ordinary story in the backdrop of the perennially volatile political situation in Italy.
When Caterina goes to her school in Rome, she is the innocent hillbilly amongst the hip, worldly, politicised, fashionable crowd of her classroom. She becomes trapped in the midst of two cliques, representing the two extremes of Italian politics: Margherita, the grungy rebel with left wing intellectual parents, and Daniela, the chic, but shallow girl, with the ultra-right wing (fascist?) parents.
The politics do play an important role in the movie, and a considerable part of the storyline develops the idea of “who are these people that govern us?”. Despite this sounding very daunting and not particularly interesting to non-Italians who do not want to know about Italian politics, the film is fascinating as the politics only set the stage and the real interest of the viewer is held by Caterina in her lonely journey of self-discovery with the first awakenings of adult thought.
Several subplots make the movie even more interesting and there are intriguing glimpses into the lives of some people that surround Caterina, but we are not allowed to gain insight into their universe, as this is after all Caterina’s story. One of the most fascinating characters I found was Caterina’s mother, played very well by Margherita Buy. She plays the scatty-brained mother well, but one scene towards the end of the film where she reaches breaking point is quite amazing. Sergio Castellito plays Caterina’s father with gusto and he is a character that is in counterpoint with Caterina’s on many levels, but at the end of the film father and daughter diverge in an amazingly poignant manner. The real acting honours go to Alice Teghil who plays Caterina wonderfully well.
If you haven’t seen this film, it’s well worth a look at. It is widely available on DVD.
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