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Interview: Nanni Moretti Talks 'We Have A Pope,' Berlusconi Film, And Italian Cinema

The Playlist By Christopher Bell | The Playlist April 4, 2012 at 12:58PM

With a career spanning almost four decades, it's about time we put the "Nanni Moretti is the Italian Woody Allen" descriptor to rest. Though ultimately a flattering praise, it doesn't exactly paint an accurate picture. Generally composing movies with a perfect blend of comedic and dramatic elements, most of the humor in a Moretti film comes from cleverly written lines delivered in sincere dryness unlike the self-deprecating rambling/witty quips that live in Allen's scripts. Aside from maybe the Italian director's two diary-form films "Caro Diario" & "Aprile," it's hard to see either's output as even remotely interchangeable -- Moretti in sci-fi satire "Sleeper" or Allen in straight-drama "The Son's Room"? While they definitely write from a very personal place (well, Allen maybe not so often now), Moretti's explore various feelings such as becoming a father ("Aprile"), contemporary politics ("The Caiman"), religion ("We Have A Pope"), and even his old favorite past-time, water polo ("Red Lob"). Similarities exist, but their voices are very much their own.
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Nanni Moretti

With a career spanning almost four decades, it's about time we put the "Nanni Moretti is the Italian Woody Allen" descriptor to rest. Though ultimately a flattering praise, it doesn't exactly paint an accurate picture. Generally composing movies with a perfect blend of comedic and dramatic elements, most of the humor in a Moretti film comes from cleverly written lines delivered in sincere dryness unlike the self-deprecating rambling/witty quips that live in Allen's scripts. Aside from maybe the Italian director's two diary-form films "Caro Diario" & "Aprile," it's hard to see either's output as even remotely interchangeable. While they definitely write from a very personal place (well, Allen maybe not so often now), Moretti's films explore various feelings such as becoming a father ("Aprile"), contemporary politics ("The Caiman"), religion ("We Have a Pope"), and even his old favorite past-time, water polo ("Red Lob"). Similarities exist, but their voices are very much their own.

So much so that it's hard to hear anyone but Moretti in his new film, "We Have a Pope." Once the Vatican's votes for the new pope are in, the victor (Cardinal Melville played by Michael Piccoli) finds nothing but insurmountantable stress. Psychoanalyst Brezzi (Moretti) is hired to help the new Pope come to terms with his new responsibilities but finds himself limited by things the Vatican won't let him talk about. Unable to leave the grounds until the situation is figured out, Brezzi suggests Melville see his ex-wife, also a psychoanalyst. While the trapped doctor kills time by organizing card games and volleyball tournaments, Melville manages to escape his escorts and runs about, chatting with strangers and rekindling his love for theater. Faithful Catholics linger in St. Peter's Square, eager to witness the announcement of their new leading figure… but with Melville gone and dealing with mental fatigue, do the people really have their pope?

The Playlist had the pleasure of sitting down with the director while he was in town for a retrospective at the IFC Center (March 28-April 5) and also promoting his new film, "We Have a Pope" (opening April 6th).

Open To Interpretation
Working through the years, Moretti's perspective on the assessment of his movies has morphed quite considerably. "Originally it was insufferable to me when people would say that my films recounted a generation. I felt like this reduced them and was a broad, more sociological way to look at them. Why not just talk about the film on its own?" But now, the director feels this kind of connection to his art is fulfilling. "I feel that if it's true that I was able to reach other people through myself, then I'm happy. That's good fortune. It's been a privilege to do this, whereas before I felt as if it reduced the value of my work." Interpretations can run wild and Moretti generally appreciates others' insight, however, he does draw the line somewhere. "I tend to accept most interpretations, but not all of them. Somebody wanted to know if it was possible to read between the lines to see 'Pope' as a recounting of contemporary Italian politics, and I don't authorize that at all." As an outspoken filmmaker ("The Caiman" was a pretty heavy skewering of the government), it seems that if Moretti were to make a comment on politics, you'd know it.

Making The Film He Wanted To Make
Following that train of thought, he was also adamant about the kind of movie he wanted to make. "I didn't want to make the film others wanted me to make about the Vatican," he stated, noting that a critical comedy on the Church is expected to have something to do with its recent dilemmas. "It didn't interest me to tell people what they already knew. Please understand that the scandals were awful -- financial scandals, pedophilia scandals, and the worst, covering up the accusations of pedophilia -- but they're not what I wanted to deal with in my movie." Despite this, he still finds room in his idea to be critical of the religion. "It is still critical, but in a way that is more difficult. If there's a pope that renounces his duty, leaving the balcony and the church without a guide, that is something very disturbing."

The Disparate State Of Italian Cinema
Despite the country pioneering the spaghetti western, the giallo, and neo-realism, Moretti describes contemporary society of Italy being relatively uninterested in its cinema. "Just like in all other countries, the movies that have the most success in Italy are the simple comedies. In France, the cultural relevance of films will still exist regardless of what happens socially or politically. This kind of mentality doesn't exist in Italy. There are good movies made in Italy, but it's the artistic climate and the industry that isn't full of energy and doesn't support this creation of cinema." But the director does his part, co-owning a theater and talking up recent homeland flicks such as "Gomorrah" and "Il Divo."

Will The Real Silvio Berlusconi Please Shut Up?
We figured Moretti would have something interesting to say about the former Italian prime minister, given the man's recent desire to oversee his own biopic and the 'Caiman' director's explicit distaste for him. "It'll probably be like those books he had published a couple of years ago that celebrated himself. Auto-celebration," he said, referencing a book the politician gave away to households titled "An Italian Story." "He'll want to rewrite history in his own way because for him it's impossible to admit that he lost. He kept 60 million Italians hostage with his personal, financial, legal, political problems… but now it's enough."

Hints Of A New Film
When questioned about his thoughts on being called the "Italian Woody Allen," he brought up a decent point -- Woody will churn'em out every year, but it takes him almost five to get a single movie completed. That said, there are very small snippets that he let out concerning his new work. "I'm afraid that if I talk it, it will run out and I won't want to do it anymore… Now I'm writing a film that's not comical, but I think that there will probably be a moment here and there of irony because that's how life is. Also, I think the principal protagonist will be a woman, a first time for me." While it's not much to go on, it's comforting to know that he's currently working towards a fresh project. The director also stated a desire to maybe do another diary-form movie, this time playing the role of Nanni Moretti.

This article is related to: Nanni Moretti, We Have a Pope, Interview


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