"Caterina in the Big City" checks in somewhere between a delight and a diversion. It's not quite up to the threshold of the former, but it's better than the latter. There's probably a nice French word that would fit it perfectly, but I don't know it.
The movie is essentially a parody of Italian society by director Paolo Virzi, who uses a child's-eye view of his own country as the mechanism of revelation and exaggeration.
Twelve-year-old Caterina (appealing Alice Teghil) is happy in a mountain town, if her father (Sergio Castellitto) is not. He is a teacher, fancies himself a Roman cosmopolitan and feels underused and frustrated teaching the blundering sons and daughters of the proletariat. He deserves so much more and finally, as the film opens, he gets it: a transfer to the big city.
Thus does Caterina find herself in a flashy Roman high school, where everything moves faster and more competitively. But the movie isn't really one of those growing-up things of mawkish emotion and treacly sentimentality. Instead, Virzi is interested in the school as metaphor.
Quickly enough Caterina -- Italy itself, one presumes -- is sought after by kids representing both the right (rich and orthodox) and the left (bohemian and revolutionary). Meanwhile her father reveals his shallowness. Instead of ministering to her, helping her, supporting and nurturing her, he becomes a petty social climber, convinced he has so much to offer the swanky urbanites of Rome.
No big deal. "Caterina in the Big City" won't change your life, but it moves along spiffily and the young Teghil is adorable as she adventures gamely onward.
Caterina in the Big City (105 minutes, in Italian with subtitles, at the Avalon) is not rated.