Fourth floor, a simple apartment in Monteverde Vecchio, the Roman neighborhood where Nanni Moretti (Brunico, 68 years old) lives and has had the office of her production company for decades. In the corridor, as a small altar on a table, rests the white helmet that for years he used to drive his old blue Vespa 125, the same one he carried on Expensive daily. One of the many elements of his life that traveled up and down the screen in an often autobiographical filmography. Today the bike is in the Turin cinema museum and he rides in a modern version of the Piaggio classic. Rome, it must be said, is no longer that romantic city whose mysteries shone in 1993 with the idle of its scooter rumbling in Ferragosto through the peripheral neighborhoods. And he’s not always that funny character with the joke on the tip of his tongue in his movies, either.
Moretti is sitting at his desk, glancing quickly at intruders and making visible efforts to be friendly. In the next room, the directors of The lioness, a documentary in which his production company works, finish off his montage. He hardly gives interviews anymore. So he observes the photographer with distrust and awaits the interrogation with a position closer to that of the rigid judge who interprets in Three floors, his new and acclaimed film, than the funny Moretti of his comic films. “I want to talk only about my film,” he repeats at various points when the interviewer tries to divert the conversation towards politics. The filmmaker, yes, preserves intact his corrosive irony, his contempt for Silvio Berlusconi – of whom he became a fearsome scourge during his various presidencies – and his unconditional love for all aspects of his work as a director, actor, producer, screenwriter and exhibitor. “So what do you want to know?”
Ask. How are you?
Answer. Very good, because I am already testing and localizing my new film.
P. What kind of movie will it be?
All the culture that goes with you awaits you here.
R. You want me to tell you now, like this, right? What claims!
P. So let’s talk about Three floors, that premieres now. It was filmed and finished before the pandemic and was paralyzed in a drawer, but it touches key elements of this period. Would it have been different if I had written it now?
R. The movie and the book speak of our tendency to lead isolated lives, to dispense with a community that we thought no longer existed. The pandemic has unmasked a lie and the concept of community has returned to the fore. We have understood how hard isolation is, to do without others. The lesson is that we have to get out of this experience together. So the movie is more topical now.
P. How did you live it?
R. Do you want to know what I have learned? Any. I have obeyed the rules that were suggested to us. In the first confinement I was a bit disoriented and then, as the film was ready, I started to write another.
P. It is the first time that he is not the author of the story and adapts a novel [Tres pisos es del israelí Eshkol Nevo]. Why?
R. I was working on a topic when one of the two scriptwriters suggested that I read Three floors. I immediately understood that there was something that was questioning me, that it had to do with me. So we started working on a structure, because the book is three separate monologues and it lacked the form of a movie.
P. Nor is it very common for it to turn into a drama. Does it have to do with your mood?
R. After my last movie [Mia madre] I wanted to write a comedy, but I didn’t succeed and this book arrived which, as I said, well represented the relationship that I have in this period with the world. My films are sometimes autobiographical down to the detail and this one is not. But it represents my feeling in this period.
P. What do you mean?
R. I am very interested in the consequences of each action. Italians often do not take responsibility for what they say or do. It is not our strong suit. What irritates the character I play [un juez estricto y severo] is that your child is not capable of doing that. And the father, in his rigid integrity, is close to losing his humanity. Justice is more important to him than family ties.
P. Do you think that the lack of responsibility of Italians also extends to politics?
R. I don’t want to talk about politics… No. I’m here to talk about my movie! [da golpecitos con los puños en la mesa].
I did politics because a man with a media empire was president of the Council of Ministers. And that, to me that I am very sporty, seemed to me a great abnormality in a democracy “
P. We used to do … But you have also done a lot of politics: actively and in your films.
R. Yes, but I don’t want to talk about current affairs.
P. ¿The cansa?
R. I follow her with intermittent attention. But this is an interview that I grant due to the release of my film in Spain.
P. Yes, but in Spain its political side is also interesting.
R. Look, I had a passionate but temporary engagement. I said it from the beginning. 20 years have passed. I always said that I would not change jobs, because I love what I do. But I departed from my profession and began to do politics with the Girotondi movement. [un movimiento ciudadano que se reunía en las plazas para protestar contra Berlusconi y contra algunos sectores de la izquierda]. It was an extraordinary situation.
R. A man with a media empire was president of the Council of Ministers. And that, to me that I am very sporty, it seemed a great abnormality in a democracy. A huge anomaly. And not because it was from the right, it would be missing more. The problem is that he was not just any man, he had a telecommunications conglomerate and that should not be possible even for someone who did not do politics because a law would have to prohibit it antitrust. It is as if in the 100 meter sprint race one of the participants came out 20 meters ahead. That is what it means in politics to have three television channels, radios, newspapers… It was an extraordinary situation and it seemed fair to dedicate my time to a cause in which I believed.
P. Well, now they are talking about him for the presidency of the Republic. Does it seem strange to you?
R. More than strange [guarda un largo silencio]. It’s incomprehensible. But before I said that Italians are not good at taking responsibility for our words and actions. And neither are we with memory, we have it very short.
P. We have also almost forgotten how films were released before and many go through platforms before theaters. Did they propose it with Three floors?
R. We received offers during the pandemic. But I told the co-producer that I didn’t want to meet them. I just wanted to wait for people to get back to the rooms. And I say it as a spectator. For me, going to a movie theater is an irreplaceable experience. And it’s something that I missed a lot in confinement.
P. Will rooms like yours survive? [Es propietario de la sala Sacher en el Trastevere].
R. You are a bit brutal… But the ones that will have the most difficulty will be medium-sized films. The public feels that they will see them on home television. But there will always be room for large productions and for quality auteur films. Those in the middle are already suffering more. My room defends itself, yes.
Shoot a series? Some platforms are very invasive. More than platforms, they are visions of the world. And I do not like that”
P. Do you watch series?
R. Some yes. I do not watch science fiction, or terror …
R. Would you do any?
R. They go too fast for my rhythms. There is no time to think during the elaboration. And also, there are platforms that are very invasive, arrogant. They meddle in all aspects. More than platforms, they are visions of the world. And I do not like that.
Moretti then loses his concentration and goes to the photographer, who is looking for settings for the portrait in the small office. “Hey, you can’t find peace … Next time I’ll summon you to a castle.”
P. Three floors it could have happened in any city. But Rome has been a minor character in many of his films. Could you make today a Expensive daily?
R. Rome is a much more stressful city today than it was then. Transportation, for example, is a very serious problem. In Rome the time of the citizens is worth nothing and this matter damages it even more. You can spend three quarters of an hour waiting for a bus, or hours in a traffic jam on the Lungotevere. It is a strenuous city. But I would not live in another.
Rome is an increasingly exhausting city, the time of the citizens is worth nothing. But I wouldn’t live anywhere else “
P. Do you think you can change?
R. Governing Rome is one of the most difficult professions in the world. Passion or honesty are not enough. You have to have lucidity, competence, good collaborators and time to change it.
P. Another of his unforgettable films was The Caiman, that portrait of Berlusconi …
R. Look, I show you an email.
Moretti shows an email alerting him that in Germany The Caiman was translated as The Italian [El italiano]. “This is a hard blow,” he says with his deep irony.
P. Are there any political figures who would inspire you in a movie today?
P. Mario Draghi could be a very Morettian character if you think about it. That sophisticated irony, his discretion, the Jesuit intelligence …
R. See, now if I answer you, you will title: “I will make a movie about Draghi” or “I will not make a movie about Draghi …”. So I don’t answer.
P. Don’t worry, we won’t. I ask him about the character.
R. Well, it is quite enigmatic. But I don’t think that the duty of a filmmaker is to make compromising films. The only commitment should be to make good movies. If possible, also innovative. That haven’t been seen 10,000 times before. There are no first or second division arguments.
P. What do you think about Draghi ruling Italy?
R. I repeat that I would prefer to talk about cinema. But I’m telling you: 10 months ago there was a moment when politics failed and they went looking for him. But we will see what will happen.
This Pope seems to me the ideal one for this historical moment. The right person in the right place at the right time. And it seems incredible to me that within the Vatican they declare war on him “
P. At its Bimbi Belli festival every summer, it holds debates and screenings of new filmmakers who have subsequently been great. One of them, curiously, was Franco Battiato.
R. It was a lovely night. It was very full. He was a great guy.
P. How did you experience your death?
R. I was very upset. I saw him at one of his last concerts in Rome. But my memory of him transports me to a night in Sicily, in the swimming pool of Acireale. We worked from six in the afternoon to five in the morning. I rolled Palombella rossa, a film that takes place in a swimming pool in a game that begins in the day and ends at night. Sounded And I come to look for you by Battiato, and 300 extras on the rostrum who sang it in chorus. All night. Until the starving began to scream: “Moretti, Moretti, we want the croissants” [Moretti, queremos los cruasanes].
P. The day Battiato died, that fantastic sequence went viral on social media… Were they friends?
R. We didn’t have a great personal relationship. Although I loved him as a musician, and also as a person.
P. One of his great characters was also that Pope who did not want to be. That pontiff who played Michel Piccoli who needed therapy. As an expert in the field, what do you think of the current Pope?
R. I am not a believer. Rather atheist. Although I do not agree with the famous phrase of Buñuel: “By the grace of God.” It is the opposite, I am angry to be it. But this Pope seems to me the ideal one for this historical moment. He is the right person in the right place at the right time. And it seems incredible to me that within the Vatican there are pieces of the clergy who declare war on him. I do not understand how a priest, a bishop or a cardinal can disagree with Francisco.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.