Italian filmmaker Nanni Moretti's whimsical 1994 essay film Caro Diario opens with a gutsy, ingenious, and thoroughly successful stylistic experiment. Moretti divides the film into three sketches, all starring himself, as a kind of "video diary," and the opener, "On My Vespa," simply follows the director, in a series of breathtaking, sustained tracking shots, as he rolls down the thoroughfares and boulevards of summertime suburban Rome on his moped -- to gentle music -- and provides occasional commentary. It marks one of the most rapturous aesthetic sequences in all of film. The unfolding Mediterranean landscape envelops us, and the shots are so beautifully composed, the Italian sky so clear, that we become not only sensorially enveloped (in the Artaudian sense), but develop a love of Moretti's world and learn to see it through his eyes. His decision to point out the architectural beauty around him only enhances this, as we learn to trust the filmmaker's eye, and develop an immediate sense of tonal empathy and rapport with him. (This was the first of Moretti's features imported into the U.S. -- which is surely deliberate. Could there be a more perfect introduction to such an artist?)
Subsequently, the director places himself in the middle of two pseudo-documentary segments, and the remainder of the film rises and falls almost entirely on the strength of Moretti's personality. The work is a triumphant success, not only because the opener has hooked us and we have developed a level of acute appreciation for this man's gaze and instinct, but because Moretti himself is so ingratiating. Many (notably Roger Ebert) have compared Moretti to Woody Allen, but such comparisons do a massive disservice to the gifted writer/director. He projects ten times the warmth and charm of Allen, sans the latter's irritating, whiny neuroses and self-aggrandizement that are supposed to masquerade as charming self-deprecation. Moretti's humility strikes us as completely real and valid; he intuitively plays the final segment -- a documentary reenactment of his battle with a strange skin disease -- with a light-handed, comic touch, resisting all temptations to beg for sympathy. As a result, we become far more emotionally invested in the director's plight than we would with a more sober dramatization. The bittersweet, gently comic tone of the final segment, laced with touches of absurdity, invites comparisons to the work of the late Spalding Gray, specifically his recounting of his battle with macular pucker in the 1996 Soderbergh film Gray's Anatomy. Best of all are Moretti's sharp, occasionally wicked flashes of humor throughout the film. As a highlight, Moretti incorporates a fantasy sequence, in which he confronts a critic who wrote a rave review of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (a film Moretti detests) and reads the review to him, over, and over, and over again, until the man screams out in agony. That must surely be a comic first.
Caro Diario on AllMovie
Caro Diario (1994)