Caterina in the Big City (2005)

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Mix Mean Girls with a political satire that skewers both the left and the right, and what do you get? You get Caterina in the Big City, an Italian movie that is both a whip-smart comedy and poignant drama.

Caterina’s (winningly played by Alice Teghil) idyllic life is uprooted when her father gets a transfer from a small Italian seaside town where he’s a teacher to a bigger assignment in the capitol of Rome. Caterina’s father Giancarlo (Sergio Catellitto) has more on his mind than grading papers and passing out homework. Giancarlo sees himself as an intellectual and novelist, and believes being among the sophisticates of Rome will garner him the success he has always felt he’s deserved.

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Caterina’s family settles in a Rome apartment where her meek and under-appreciated mother (Margherita Buy) takes care of Giancarlo’s ailing aunt. As Giancarlo prepares for his ascent into the literary and intellectual world, Caterina tries to gain her footing at her new school and its confusing social mores. On the left are the alterna-chicks, the offspring of leftist radicals. On the right are the popular girls, the daughters of right wing movers and shakers. Both parties throw bitchy barbs at each other as Caterina sits at her desk wondering if she’ll ever make friends.

At first, Caterina befriends Margherita (Carolina Iaqueniello) whose parents are liberal activists. Before long Caterina is experimenting with drinking, smoking and attending street protests. Giancarlo hopes his daughter’s new friendship will help elevate his career. But Margherita’s parents reject him as a lightweight, and Giancarlo forbids Caterina from seeing Margherita and her other grungy pals. It’s just as well as these girls got Caterina drunk on cheap vodka and tried to give her a tattoo.

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The class queen bees, helmed by Daniela (Federica Sbrenna), soon take Caterina under their fashion plate wings. Daniela is the daughter of an extreme right wing politician and a mother who is usually nursing a hangover. Hanging out with Daniela, Caterina is transformed from a wholesome girl to a sex pot, and is also introduced to shoplifting, night clubs, and flirting with men nearly twice her age. Initially, Caterina is enthralled with this glamorous life, but soon grows despondent, especially after one of Daniela’s cousins rejects her for being low class And when she sees Daniela’s family sing fascist songs at a wedding reception, Caterina realizes with friends like these who needs enemies?

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By the end, Caterina gains some much earned wisdom and maturity. The best person to be is oneself, and the real Caterina is a pretty awesome individual. Sadly, for her father, this lesson comes a little too late, and he deals with yet another rejection.

Directed by Paolo Virzi, Caterina in the Big City is brutal in its skewering of the excesses of both the left and right, but it’s also an affective coming of age story that truthfully conveys wanting to belong is something we never quite grow out of.

Caterina in the Big City is unrated and is in Italian with English subtitles.

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