Sarcastic, pedantic, neurotic. Personal, punctilious, political. Ask an Italian friend and these words are likely to come up to describe one of Italy’s best-known auteurs, Nanni Moretti.
Over the course of a forty years’ career, Moretti has developed a quirky film persona and distinctive style, becoming a true cinema icon in the process. His films are even responsible for coining new catchphrases in the Italian language: ‘words are important’, quote all self-respecting Italian Grammar Nazis; ‘I am a splendid forty year-old’ - as he wrote in his Dear Diary - is now a classic Facebook status for people hitting their 40th birthday; ‘say something left-wing’ - as Moretti once begged a renowned leftie politician to stand up to the irresistible rise of Silvio Berlusconi - can be heard at political rallies all over the country.
In the English-speaking world Moretti’s obsessive-compulsive characters and their tragicomic stories have earned him the reputation of the ‘Italian Woody Allen’. In truth, his filmmaking sensibilities lie more in a strange territory where Jacques Tati meets Mike Leigh: after all, this is the same man whose film about a depresive, reluctant Pope with an identity crisis featured joyful scenes of cardinals playing volleyball in the courtyards of the Vatican Palace, but also the director who won the Palme d’Or for a deeply moving film about a family mourning the sudden, tragic death of their teenage son.
Like his fellow Italian intellectual Italo Calvino, Moretti embraces lightness in ways that are by no means superficial: his seemingly innocuous films often contain scathing social commentary and deeply political satire to lambast the Italian intelligentsia and middle class from within, as well as profound meditations on cultural conformism, urban beauty, loneliness and loss.
Having said all that, not everyone has an Italian friend ready to navigate them through the complicated obsessions of this national treasure, so we have put together a guide to Nanni Moretti for the non-Italian in 10 easy steps, so you can enjoy his latest film Mia Madre just like an Italian would.
Nanni Moretti was born in Bruneck, South Tyrol, ‘by accident’ - his parents were there on holiday. In fact, he is Roman through and through: raised in the Italian capital, he set and shot practically all of his films there (with the notable exception of The Son's Room, which is set in Ancona). The first chapter of Dear Diary is a veritable love letter to his favourite area, Garbatella.
As demonstrated in a legendary dream sequence from Bianca, he loves Nutella, but the classic Viennese chocolate cake Sachertorte is his favourite dessert. So much so that when he co-founded his film production company with producer Angelo Barbagallo in 1987, he named it Sacher.
Moretti is a true cinephile, and his intolerance of bad film criticism is famous. In Dear Diary he tortures a film critic by forcing him to listen to his atrocious reviews being read out loud on his deathbed. Moretti also owns and runs an independent cinema in Rome called Nuovo Cinema Sacher (you can see a theme there). The short film Il Giorno della prima di Close Up (1996), shows him trying to encourage people to see Abbas Kiarostami's film Close Up in his cinema on the day of its release.
4. Mother. Father. Brother.
Just like the titular character in Mia Madre, Nanni Moretti’s mother Agata was a well-loved and much respected Latin teacher in a Roman school. His father Luigi taught Classical Studies and Ancient Greek at the Universities of Palermo, Naples and Rome. His brother Franco is a renowned comparative literature scholar, currently working at Stanford University. They have all appeared in Nanni's films.
Aprile was all about the birth of Moretti's son Pietro at the time of yet another electoral triumph for Berlusconi in the late 1990s. Pietro appears as himself. He is now 19 years old and an artist.
6. Alter ego
In five out of his six early films, Moretti plays a character called Michele Apicella. While Apicella can be considered the director’s alter ego, he is actually a different person in each film. Intolerant, fastidious, psychotically obsessed with his own analysis, he is an anti-Everyman.
7. Water polo
Nanni Moretti was a semi-professional water polo player, playing for S.S. Lazio and competing in Italy’s Serie B. The film Palombella Rossa is probably the world’s only water polo drama (please feel free to contradict).
Nanni Moretti is as wildly popular in France as in Italy. His long association with the Cannes film festival includes a Palme d'Or win in 2001 with The Son's Room. In 2012 he was the president of the Cannes jury which awarded the Palme d'Or to Michael Haneke’s Amour and the Grand Prix to Reality by fellow Italian director Matteo Garrone. Other prizes that year included Carlos Reygadas as Best Director for Post Tenebras Lux; Beyond the Hills won Best Screenplay and Best Actress for Cristina Flutur and Cosmina Stratan; Mads Mikkelsen won Best Actor for The Hunt; and the Jury Prize went to Ken Loach’s The Angels' Share. Quite the world cinema line-up.
His official biography reads: “he is not on twitter, he is not on Facebook, he doesn’t have a blog.” It would be surprising if he had a smartphone and a computer. He does, however, ride a Vespa scooter, as seen on Dear Diary. He also wore corduroy before Wes Anderson made it cool.
Despite his many cinematic alter egos claiming to be confused about and disaffected by politics, many of Moretti’s films contain more or less explicit commentary about Italian society and he is personally very much involved in political activities. He has made at least two openly political films, Il Portaborse and The Caiman.