It would be easy to write off the dark comedy I predatori (The Predators, in English) as an exercise in nihilism. The corpse of Friedrich Nietzsche even pops up as a major plot point, as anthropologists wish to exhume the body in order to discover the philosopher’s cause of death, which in turn could help to explain the workings of such a complex mind. I predatori is another in a lineage of ensemble pieces where a large group of loosely connected characters are followed over the course of several days, with a timeline that occasionally loops back on itself. It’s not the least bit surprising to discover that this is the debut feature of writer-director Pietro Castellitto, an Italian actor who also co-stars here as an infantile, wannabe bomber; the filmmaking is deeply self-conscious, all artfully-composed wide shots and minimal, deliberate camera movements that draw attention to themselves while adding nothing of substance to the film. It looks and feels like any number of generic, would-be art films, replete with careful blocking, splashes of color, and a deadpan sense of humor that hope to trick the viewer into perceiving some level of depth otherwise lacking.
Nearly all of the characters here are passive nihilists, individuals who express belief in traditional values despite any conviction in their veracity. All cling to the idea that wealth and status lead to the ultimate goal — power. In I predatori, the ruling 1% are explicitly amoral, giving no thought to the consequences of their actions precisely because none exist. Conversely, the film presents another group who have obtained power through more violent means, but they are viewed as inherently lesser simply because they are struggling financially. The problem, then, is that Castellitto offers no new insights into his portrait of a broken system: the rich are assholes incapable (or unwilling) of introspection because it would lead to self-destruction, while the working class cling to their humanity, which in turn proves their downfall. They reject the values perpetuated by the ruling class, and instead, erect their own. What Castellitto fails to understand is that, passive or active, nihilism is a cinematic dead end, a roadblock that makes it nearly impossible to invest in anyone or anything happening onscreen, and that deadening effect is here magnified by the detached approach to narrative, all efforts at dark humor rendered one-note and stultifying. An argument could be made that Castellitto is taking an anthropological view of his subjects, much like the film’s Nietzsche scholars, but I predatori practically suffocates the viewer with its pat, sanctimonious ideologies. Rich people suck. Got it.
Published as part of Venice International Film Festival 2020 — Dispatch 1.