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Caro diario
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by Robert Flaxman

"Dear Diary: I am a boring person."
2 stars

I'm pretty sure it's possible to make an interesting film out of a mixture of documentary, travelogue, observational humor, and social satire. In fact, I might almost think that it would be impossible not to make an interesting film out of those elements. At least, that's what I would have thought before I saw this movie.

Caro Diario is divided into three sections, and while each is better than the last, there aren't enough for any of them to actually get very good. The first section is "On My Vespa," which features writer/director Nanni Moretti tooling around Italy on his motorcycle, commenting on various things he sees. I could do the same thing with a camcorder, and it probably wouldn't be any less interesting. In casting himself as the main character, Moretti seems perhaps a tad narcissistic - but if that's the case, this must just be a version of himself and not the genuine article. After all, what kind of narcissist makes himself look like some sort of eccentric, the kind of person others seem to go out of their way to avoid?

Moretti casts himself as the kind of person who complains there are no good movies in Rome theaters in the summer, then goes anyway and talks to the screen. He directly criticizes other films - did he actually get the rights to include clips from Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer when all he does is call it awful, going so far as to show himself pestering the critic who had given it a favorable review? He says he'd like to make a whole film just showing drive-by shots of houses. That might actually have been less interesting than this, so I'm glad he refrained there.

Moretti offers some social commentary in the first section, but seems to hit his stride on that count in the second section, "Islands." He and friend Gerardo (Renato Carpentieri) decide to sail around to different Italian islands, purporting to be looking for a quiet place to work. From Lipari to Stromboli to Alicudi, Moretti looks for things at which to poke fun.

Chief among these is the conversion of Gerardo. In a café on Lipari, Moretti does an impromptu dance along with a film on TV. Gerardo, who has been studying James Joyce's Ulysses for thirty years, says he has never watched TV and cites an author who says that TV is nothingness. Later, on the boat, Gerardo catches a soap opera on the television, and becomes addicted - while on Stromboli, he has Moretti ask a group of American tourists what happened with the plots on "The Bold and the Beautiful", as the Italians are a few months behind.

It's a relatively amusing plot, but Moretti goes to the well too often, turning Gerardo into something of a buffoon. More importantly, it's hard to tell what Moretti is trying to satirize here. Is it an attack on people who think television is a lower medium, or does it paint television as exactly that?

It's never very clear what Moretti is trying to say. Sometimes it seems like he goes after the self-important ennui of the Italian baby boomers, but later he doesn't depict himself all that much differently. He has an obsession with one artistic medium but makes fun of obsession with another. He describes Flashdance as the movie that changed his life, but when he meets Jennifer Beals on the street, she thinks he's more than a little weird.

Things pull together a bit in the film's third section, "Doctors." Cursed with an itch he can't get rid of, Moretti visits dermatologists and allergists all around Rome, and all of them turn out to be wrong in their diagnoses. Watching Moretti get poked and prodded by a succession of doctors who then scribble down prescriptions that don't help has a quietly comic appeal that the first two thirds of the film lacked, having been both louder and less subtle.

In the end, though, Moretti has issues in this section as well. The conclusion he draws is that doctors don't know what they're talking about, as though he had expected doctors to be infallible automatons, whose inability to make the right diagnosis was baffling. Doctors are, after all, human, and they can make mistakes. Moretti probably knows this, but of course it doesn't make for as wry a conclusion.

Caro Diario is pretty much like reading someone's diary, except instead of juicy tidbits of gossip, there's stuff about visiting the assassination spot of Pier Paolo Pasolini or going to the beach in knee socks. The film has moments of clarity, but Moretti seems mostly concerned with social satire that would be more effective if it didn't feel so forced. Too many vignettes end abruptly, making it unclear why they were included in the first place. Rather than making much effort to connect them, Moretti simply lets them be, which might work as a device in a more compelling film, but here it feels as though he simply couldn't be bothered to find a link.

Social satire has a long tradition in Italian cinema - Antonioni's L'Avventura is just one film that comes to mind. Where L'Avventura incorporated its critique into a story, however, Caro Diario tries to force the critique to be the story, and it never quite works. There's some good hiding in Moretti's film, but it's obscured by the problems of the form he chose.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=11039&reviewer=385
originally posted: 10/12/04 05:19:52
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User Comments

11/04/06 alex great 5 stars
7/19/05 Noel Marin Charming offbeat character - Italian Woody Allen! 4 stars
6/11/05 Carolym Bongiorno I loved it! 5 stars
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