Caterina in the Big City
What’s in an Italian school kid’s lunch? Limoncello?

Theatrical Release Date: 10/24/2003 (Italy), 06/03/2005 (USA)
Director:Paolo Virzì
Cast: Alice Teghil, Sergio Castellitto, Margherita Buy, Federica Sbrenna, Carolina Iaquaniello

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from “Caterina in the Big City”, it’s that Italian kids are messed up; and honestly, my desire to visit the country as a whole has dropped a bit too.

The premise is a simple and sweet one – a girl (Caterina) and her family move from a small, hick town outside of Rome to the “big city” itself. Caterina enrolls in a school that is much more progressive than her last and the school is divided into two basic cliques, one being neo-fascist and the other liberal/hippie intelligentsia.

Of course, the message of the film is that you should always be true to yourself and not get caught up trying to fit into something that you’re not … that’s the sweet and adorable part.

However, to get there is a bit of a journey and not one I plan to undertake anytime soon.

First, Caterina’s father (played well by Sergio Castellitto) is obsessed with becoming part of the upper crust of society and trying to publish his borderline pornographic novel. He emotionally abuses his wife, calling her stupid over and over until she eventually finds the courage to seek out a man who will love and cherish her for all the right reasons, not just as a cook and housewife.

Second, the idea that the two choices adolescent kids have to choose from in Italy is made up of such extreme political ideals is scary. Going to a wedding where half of the guests give the fascist salute and sing about their ideals is far too WWII for me and I wouldn’t want my kid anywhere in the vicinity.

The other camp isn’t much better, where kids try to be ultra-hip and faux-intellectuals … criticizing others for any apparent lack of knowledge and trying overly hard to appear disinterested in the mainstream.

Lastly, this film is long … according to IMDb, the runtime is 90 minutes in the US version and 107 minutes in the Italian version. I’m not sure which one I watched but it felt more like 120 minutes than either listed runtime. I’m all in favor of taking your time to develop the story and its characters but I shouldn’t feel like I’m at the corner waiting for an overdue bus while doing so.

I had wanted to like this film very much, thinking the premise was good natured and sweet. It was to be a welcome change from some of the more somber pieces I’d been watching lately.

Alas, I’m going to shell out a 2 out of 5 to “Caterina in the Big City”. The actors were all excellent but the story needed to be tightened up and the Italian socio-political scene depicted on screen was unnerving to say the least and turned me off.