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    Caterina in the Big City

    The city's slicker

    Small-town girl Caterina finds the big city of Rome much faster than she's prepared for in "Caterina in the Big City," a comedy that's really about her fast-paced classmates and the awkward homecoming of her trouble-plagued dad.


    If the Italians had a word for "dork" — you know, like "dorco," for example — Caterina's father would be next to it in the dictionary. Having alienated most everyone in the small town of Montalto, Giancarlo has obtained a transfer to a teaching job in Rome, where he can piss off a much higher class of people.

    Original title: Caterina Va in Cittł.
    Directed by: Paolo Virzô.
    Written by: Francesco Bruni, Paolo Virzô.
    Cast: Alice Teghil, Sergio Castellitto, Margherita Buy, Carolina Iaquaniello, Federica Sbrenna, Roberto Benigni, Claudio Amendola, Flavio Bucci, Antonio Carnevale, Paola Tiziana Cruciani, Raffaella Lebboroni, Simonetta Martone, Giovanna Melandri, Michele Placido, Galatea Ranzi, Raffaele Vannoli, Silvio Vannucci, Ottavia Virzô.
    Cinematography: Arnaldo Catinari, Marco Pieroni.
    Edited by: Federico Minetti, Cecilia Zanuso.
    In Italian with English subtitles.
    Walter Reade Theater Lincoln Center, 65th St. between Broadway and Amsterdam (212) 875-5600 Thurs June 3: 7; Sat June 5: 6:45; Mon June 7: 1

    Open Roads: New Italian Cinema
  • Festival overview
  • Caterina in the Big City (Caterina Va in Cittł)
  • La Destinazione
  • Now Or Never (Ora o Mai PiŁ)

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  • And that's how Caterina winds up "in cittł" — in the big city. Caterina herself is an insubstantial personality — made moreso by the fact that she plays the country yokel amid her fashionable, cosmopolitan new classmates. Dropping her off at the first day of school, her father is annoyed that the faculty and even the janitors have changed since he studied there decades earlier. He warns her not to tell anyone where she's from.

    "In my class, there were children of judges, newspaper owners, head doctors, directors, attorneys. The intellectual level is probably much lower now," he sneers, characteristically covering up his own inferiority complex with smugness. Later he sees that her classmates include daughters of business tycoons, deputy ministers, published authors, and there's one girl with the tantalizing surname Armani. Suddenly there's hope — the family is back among the right kind of people after 20 years in the sticks.

    Caterina in the Big City  
    Little does Giancarlo realize what kind of people these girls really are. Almost immediately after arriving in school, Caterina is forced to choose — Margherita or Daniela? Which clique is she in, the stuck-up rich girls or the dark-souled bohemian girls? Caterina is as clueless about her new social order as she is about the shouting political debates ("communists" vs. "fascists") that rage in class. Although she herself is extremely beige, the people around her burst with color, passion, fury, lofty intentions and low behavior.

    "Caterina Va in Cittł" has outrageously funny scenes — starting with Giancarlo's biting farewell to his despised small-town students. But it's a very dark sense of humor. The film is really about personalities, especially his. Imagine a standard coming-of-age movie about a smart, unusual kid learning that it's okay to be an individual, different from the rest. Giancarlo is that kid, only he's 40-something and he hasn't had that final scene where everything turns out okay. Angry that others have gotten all the breaks in life, he righteously criticizes the establishment, big money, the old boys' network, and yet envies them at the same time. Back in Rome, he has a chance to mingle with exactly the class of people he inwardly resents, and every chance he gets to make a mark among them turns to embarrassment.

    Played with great flair by Sergio Castellitto (the insouciant chef from "Mostly Martha"), Giancarlo is an enormously sympathetic but uncomfortable character, and his contradictions have a ripple effect on everyone in his orbit. His wife Agata (Margherita Buy) lives in a shell rather than get in the way of her grandiose husband. Caterina (Alice Teghil) is thrust uneasily into a social scene she's thoroughly unprepared for, made even more out of place by her dad's instructions. She doesn't seem to have inherited his low self-esteem, but this new life flies way over her head most of the time. It's a complex portrait of a family's struggle, set amid the tumult of big-city society and class consciousness. "Caterina" is a very rewarding movie.

    JUNE 3, 2004

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