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'Caro Diario'

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
October 21, 1994

 


Director:
Nanni Moretti
Cast:
Nanni Moretti;
Jennifer Beals
NR
no offensive material


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"Caro Diario (Dear Diary)," which won the director's prize at Cannes last spring, is about the various anxieties, observations and obsessions of Italian writer/director Nanni Moretti. In this serendipitous, documentary-style comedy, Moretti cruises through Rome, visits the Lipari Islands and undergoes a battery of medical tests for a mysterious medical condition—all the while telling us exactly what's on his mind. Much of what he says is funny and thought-provoking. Some of it (particularly in the later sections) is overwrought and self-indulgent. But that's why it's called "Dear Diary."

"On My Vespa," the first and best of the movie's three "chapters," is basically a wry motorcycle tour through Rome, as the 41-year-old Moretti—on his Vespa—holds forth on the city's charming old districts and ugly housing projects, as well as dancing, pretentious Italian films, Jennifer Beals (with whom he has a goofy fan's encounter) and his disgust at the cult film "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer." It's brought to a nicely lyrical conclusion when Moretti takes a pilgrimage for the first time to the beachside town where Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini was slain.

In "Islands," a wonderfully picturesque section of the movie, Moretti and a professor-friend called Gerardo tour the volcanic islands north of Sicily, looking rather unsuccessfully for a place to work. Moretti is writing a film inspired by the bizarre and stupid news articles he has been collecting for years. But there always seems to be some reason to move to another island, whether it's noisy traffic, friends who are too obsessed with their children or obnoxious islanders. In one of the film's more amusing moments, Gerardo forces Moretti to ask a group of American tourists what's coming up in the TV soap series "The Bold and the Beautiful," since they see the episodes ahead of Italy.

Unfortunately, by the time "Doctors," the last chapter, gets underway, the movie has already begun a downward spiral. Moretti becomes increasingly heavy-handed and cute. His movie—even by its own anything-goes standards—begins to meander. The "Doctors" finale seems to cap this problem, as Moretti obsessively visits a series of doctors, nutritionists and psychologists to cure his chronic itching. His investigative journey into his body literally squeezes us out.

But even at its least successful, "Caro Diario" is always watchable. The widely divergent sections are given entertaining unity by Moretti, who suggests a bearded, Mediterranean Woody Allen, as he quietly rails against bad culture and the bewildering puzzles of life. Walking out of "Henry," for instance, he slumps with Allen-like dejection into the bench outside the theater, recalling a film critic's absurdly rhapsodic review of the movie.

"I wonder if whoever wrote this, before he falls asleep, has a moment of remorse," laments Moretti. The movie immediately launches into an amusing fantasy in which Moretti confronts the offending critic in bed. While Moretti mercilessly reads his reviews, the critic sobs inconsolably into his pillow. It's a delicious moment of poetic revenge for Moretti and also an example of how—even though "Caro Diario" is ostensibly about himself—the movie's written for all of us too.

CARO DIARIO (DEAR DIARY) (Unrated) — In Italian with subtitles. Contains no offensive material.

   
© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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