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‘Caro Diario’

By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
October 21, 1994


Nanni Moretti
Nanni Moretti;
Jennifer Beals
Not rated

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"Caro Diario" ("Dear Diary") is more like a sketchbook than an actual diary. Part travelogue and part confessional, this verite-style comedy is a portfolio of video doodles, cartoons and quick impressions about whatever happens to be on the lively, scattered mind of Italian filmmaker Nanni Moretti.

As a celebration of ephemera, the movie is a mixed bag, sometimes hilarious, sometimes tiresome. No subject is too great or too small to grab Moretti's attention. In "On My Vespa," the first of the film's three sections, our bearded, bespectacled guide conducts an impromptu tour of Rome's most distinctive architecture, coasts through his favorite neighborhoods and rhapsodizes about "Flashdance" and its star, Jennifer Beals (whom he bumbles into on a Rome sidewalk).

The film, which won the director's prize at Cannes last spring, is at its best when Moretti cuts his imagination loose. In one hilarious sequence, he goes to see "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer," which he despises so completely that he fantasizes torturing the critic who praised it by reading his review back to him as he's trying to sleep.

A sizable chunk of what Moretti showcases here verges on the tedious. In "Islands," the film's meandering middle section, Moretti and a friend wander from one ravishing Mediterranean island to another, vainly searching for a quiet place to work. But with the exception of their visit to an island where parents are terrorized by the telephone habits of their toddlers, the comic payoff to these scenes is too flimsy to merit the effort.

Also, Moretti's focus often seems slack, as if he'd suddenly lost his concentration and forgotten what he wanted to say. At one point, the director-star remembers that he hasn't visited the site where Pier Paolo Pasolini was assassinated, but by the time he actually arrives at his destination our interest in whatever point he was trying to make has dribbled away.

Most diaries convey a sense of the author, but this one obscures as much as it reveals. In the midst of all these dithering opinions and observations, Moretti makes an offhand reference to his chemotherapy, then never mentions it again, not even when he visits doctor after doctor searching for relief from a maddening itch. This last section, titled "Doctors," is the most trying of the three, primarily because it highlights what has been the film's greatest failing all along. Initially, the loose unconnectedness of Moretti's musings creates a sense of intellectual adventure -- you never quite know where he's going to go next. By the end, though, this unpredictability becomes a drawback. A tour of one man's mind can succeed only if that mind is inherently of interest, and Moretti's, as it turns out, just isn't.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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