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"Caterina in the City"|
(In subtitled Italian)
106 minutes | Unrated
LIMITED: Friday, June 24, 2005
Directed by Paolo Virzì
Starring Alice Teghil, Sergio Castellitto, Carolina Ianquaniello, Federica Sbrenna, Margherita Buy, Zach Wallen, Roberto Benigni (cameo)
Small-town Italian girl navigates the treacherous cliques of middle school in symbolically ideological 'Caterina in the City'
On its surface, the lightweight Italian coming-of-age drama "Caterina in the City" falls somewhere between the nothingness of a tweenybopper popcorn movie and the darker peer-pressure sensibilities of 2003's hard-biting "Thirteen."
Underneath, it's also a political satire in which middle-school cliques take on the veneer of fascists, communists and socialists, while the activist parents of these children have slipped so far into passionate rhetoric that they seem almost surreal.
Trying desperately to keep her head above water while navigating this sea of supercharged social mores is naive, soft-spoken, 14-year-old Caterina (Alice Teghil), recently transplanted to sophisticated Rome from a provincial corner of the Mediterranean nation. Alternately harassed and courted by gaggles of grungy hippie girls and partying sexpot popular types, what little self-identity she has is constantly being trampled by the stronger personalities of her class's queen bees.
Meanwhile, at home the poor girl's pride is helpless in the wake of her bitter, blustery, unstable father (Sergio Catellitto), who fancies himself an underappreciated intellectual and can't wait to ride his daughter's coattails into the socio-political circles of her friends' parents -- among them a government minister and a famous liberal activist. Honest and loving, but dim and meek, her mother (Margherita Buy) is no help either.
To make his political points, writer-director Paolo Virzi plays loose with the way catty schoolgirls really behave (the popular girls are inexplicably eager to welcome awkward Caterina into their fold and mold her), and this films will certainly be of more interest to those with a working knowledge of Italian politics. But young Teghil, with her soft, plain features (almost as moldable as Caterina's character) and sad eyes, gives a sweet, honest, unaffected performance that brings Virzi's themes to full bloom in the bosom of teenage anxiety -- and thus just saves the movie from its own conceit.
Whether or not "Caterina in the City" would, in the United States, appeal more to politically minded grown-ups or young teenage girls (who could recognize their anxieties as universal by identifying with Caterina) is hard to say. But I think both would enjoy it.