Giovanni “Nanni” Moretti’s 1993 film Caro Diario, or Dear Diary, does not pretend to tell a story, and it is not a documentary. It is largely autobiographical in the sense that it depicts the life of a real human, himself. It is not, however, a work of nonfiction, as he casts various Italian actors in fictitious roles. Caro Diario is simply this director’s decision to turn his camera on himself while engaged in various activities. It is divided into three segments. The first involves Moretti traveling around Rome on his motor scooter, encountering different people along the way. Particularly noteworthy for this segment is his encounter with the star of a film he loves, Jennifer Beales, who played the lead in Flashdance, and his thoughts on the 1990 film Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, the title of which aptly describes that film’s content. That Moretti, who depicts himself as very kind, thoughtful and naive, would love Flashdance and not be a fan of Henry is not surprising, if one is familiar with his history, which reflect his left-wing political views and humanist nature.
The second segment is the least substantive in that it depicts the director moving from island to island with his friend, Gerardo, in an effort at finding total seclusion for artistic endeavors. Unfortunately for Moretti, Gerardo becomes addicted to American soap operas when exposed to television, and their partnership flounders.
The third segment is the most poignant and autobiographical, in that its entire focus is on Moretti’s efforts at attaining an accurate diagnosis to explain a persistent and annoying skin condition. His journey through the labyrinthine medical system, during which he receives innumerable false diagnoses and ineffective prescriptions for treatment, ends with the correct diagnosis finally being made, which connects the mysterious skin rash with a malignant growth on his lung.
Caro Diario is three short films connected by the common thread of Moretti’s observant, inquisitive nature and his determination to appear as virtuous as possible. In reflecting on the violent, surrealistic Henry, Moretti comments regarding its author, “I wonder if, whoever wrote this before falling asleep has a moment of remorse.” Thus is the contempt he holds for that film, and about which he remains astonished by its positive reception among many film critics.
Moretti has a long track record as a film maker and as a political activist. A good point of discussion involving his “character” in Caro Diario is whether he is as he presents himself on screen, or whether he is more like Captain Louis Renault in a much earlier and much different film, shocked to discover perfidy and insidious influences on society. Another possible topic could involve the pseudo-intellectual persona he adopts in the way he wrote the second segment, with his evident disappointment that Gerardo, who had lived in blessed seclusion while studying James Joyce’s much-heralded classic, Ulysses, is reduced to an obsession with “The Bold and the Beautiful,” which reminded this “educator” of a scene in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall where the lead character, closely based upon Allen himself, expresses dismay with his best friend’s decision to earn a living working in television instead of performing Shakespeare in the park. Whether Moretti is being pretentious is, again, subjective, but in the context of his broader history, a point worth pondering.