Venice 2020 review: The Predators (Pietro Castellitto)

There are a lot of predators running around in The Predators, Pietro Castellitto’s class satire which shows that taking and being taken advantage of is the grease on which Italian society increasingly runs. With broad appeal and a slightly subversive tone, not in the least because he takes everyone to task, Castellitto’s film should play well with audiences at home while its comedy gives it a chance to go beyond its borders. Castellitto, who directed, wrote, and stars in the film, shows real skill at storytelling both in his visual direction and even more so in his writing, as this web of interplaying storylines come full circle in a brilliant afterthought of a closing shot. With an ensemble of at least six major parts, The Predators weaves the lives of several social classes together into a tapestry of avoidable errors caused by vanity, selfishness, arrogance, and lust.

Claudio (Giorgio Montanini) is a smalltime player in the criminal organization of his uncle. A convinced neo-fascist (his home is filled with images of Il Duce), he and his brother Carlo are the muscled stooges of the outfit, but they are also keen on any side hustle. His wife Teresa (Giulia Petrini) clearly resents his extra-social activities but goes along for the ride. Ludovica (Manuela Mandracchia) is a film director whose latest project is marred by production problems, from an actor who nearly dies on set to budget cuts by the studio. She finds little understanding at home for her frustration. Her husband Pierpaolo (Massimo Popolizio) is too preoccupied by his affair with Gaia (Anita Caprioli), the wife of his colleague and friend Bruno (Dario Cassini), so Ludovica is left with her immigrant housekeeper as a sounding board. Meanwhile Pierpaolo and Ludovica’s son Federico (Castellitto himself), a student of Nietzsche with an intellectual superiority complex, is let go by his professor on the verge of an important research project. This and Claudio’s mother getting fleeced set the wheels of I Predatori in motion, and once they start rolling it is hard to stop.

With the possible exception of Teresa, all characters are quite awful in one way or the other. The film is not called The Predators for nothing. The neo-fascists are probably the most broadly drawn (they even have a ping pong table displaying a Celtic Cross), but Castellitto doesn’t spare the bourgeois Pierpaolo and Ludovica or the intellectual Federico one bit. In fact, Castellitto gave himself probably the most annoying character, making Federico a spiteful know-it-all who looks down on his family but is too stupid to make an actual rebellious statement. Self-centeredness is really the key to The Predators, and it is telling that those who serve them are those who usually move through society anonymously: immigrants, who all have near wordless roles as servants and cleaners and who are essentially hardly even seen by the mightier-than-thou privileged classes in the film (Claudio and his bunch obviously excepted, not in the least because they wouldn’t employ immigrants).

It is sly elements like these in Castellitto’s writing that elevate I Predatori above a standard comedy-of-errors level. Yet on that base level his writing is intricate enough to tie all storylines together with no strings left dangling. Callbacks to earlier scenes that were seemingly included for no reason suddenly pile onto the chaos and complexity of the relationships between the characters, informing us on earlier behavior. With the exception of Claudio and his family, who are a bit too simplified, the satirical quirks of the other characters (which are perhaps closer to Castellitto’s real-life circle) add to the strength of The Predators‘ screenplay, even if they are all somewhat one-dimensional. Castellitto’s direction isn’t overly flashy, with some notable exceptions that do add a little punch when needed. Taken together, The Predators is a highly enjoyable affair that finds situational comedy to please larger audiences, but hides enough depth underneath it to also attract a more demanding crowd.