Classic Film Review: “Caro Diario” earns a “virtual” premiere, and a fresh look

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Here’s what you remember about “Caro Diario,” Italian actor/director Nanni Moretti’s “diary,” essay, love poem and comical elbow in the ribs of his beloved homeland.

You remember the movie’s long, languorous opening chapter, just narrator, host and tour-guide Moretti “On My Vespa,” scootering from one Roman neighborhood to another, commenting on the stereotypes of each.

Bourgeois Casalpalocco is where one finds — or found 30 years ago when this film was made — German cars, new money and the blasphemy of “pizzas in cardboard boxes,” the mocked, characterless and (back then) poorer Spinaceto, where Moretti spends just long enough to agree with a guy he sees leaning against a crumbling industrial wall, “It’s not so bad,” Olympic Village (1960), Garbatella (1927), Montverde — each has its charms and its stereotypes.

The then-40 year-old Moretti riffs on the state of cinema, how the movie theaters in Rome “are closed for the summer” except for porn, martial arts and homemade Italian melodramas.

He ducks into theaters, mutters at the screen (in Italian with English subtitles) and obsesses and despairs over the savage thriller, “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. He reads a review of that one and ponders the critic who wrote it.

“I wonder if whoever wrote this has a moment of remorse just before going to sleep.”

He even runs into “Flashdance” star Jennifer Beals and “In the Soup” and “13 Moons” (starring Jennifer Beals) director Alexandre Rockwell, with Beals — in fluent Italian — trying to brush off the pushy beardo in the dorky scooter helmet and shades, and telling Rockwell (in English) that “I think this guy must be a foot maniac.”

This comic travelogue is like a “Manhattan” era Woody Allen starring in an Italian/Roman version of Richard Linklater’s “Slacker” — droll, scenic and adorable. Moretti — this is his only well-known film — is a delight at showing how delighted this exercise makes him feel, “dancing” on his Vespa as he wheels down stradas and boulevards, whimsically thinking what his voice-over commentary on Garbatella will be.

The rest of the movie? Maybe, if you saw it when it came out (1993 in Italy, 1994 in the US), you were struck by a series of ferry visits to the Italian islands of Alina, Lipari,  Alicudi, Panarea and the volcanic Stromboli.

That’s where his American soap opera-obsessed traveling companion insists Moretti quiz American tourists about what’s coming up (Italy used to get American TV shows and movies months later) on “The Bold and the Beautiful,” a shouted, language-barrier soap dissection that takes place on the lip of a volcano.

“Alicudi makes narcissists,” Moretti opines, because “everybody lives alone” and “everybody has just one child.” A montage of  Italian brattery, indulged toddlers taking over the family telephone, makes that point.

“A party in honor of ‘bad taste'” is dodged, a persistent village mayor insists that they’ll be able to work in the quiet of his island hamlet, when of course they won’t — the film will make one nostalgic for travel, and wonder when today’s grounded globetrotters will get around to ruining these places, all over again.

What you might have forgotten if this new “virtual premiere” (streaming on Film Movement) is not your first encounter with Moretti’s near-masterpiece, is what a dull, pedestrian third act it finishes with. “Doctors” the chapter is called, and its about the convoluted, second, third and fourth opinions of Italian medicine.

If you’re coming to “Caro Diario” for the first time, you may want to preserve its travelogue charms and whimsy and check out after one or two lame doctor visits/”I have this itch” gags, before the movie’s overall effect is spoiled.

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MPAA Rating: unrated

Cast: Nanni Moretti, Renato Carpentieri, Giovanna Bozzolo, Alexandre Rockwell and Jennifer Beals.

Credits: Written and directed by Nanni Moretti.  A Film Movement release.

Running time:  1:41

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