#173 Dear Diary

Caro diario
(1994, Nanni Moretti)

Not that long ago, I reviewed a movie called Sans Soleil, a pretentious documentary film about…something that ultimately boiled down to being really about director Chris Marker’s summer holiday in Japan. I thought it was a rare exception in filmmaking until my film list threw up Nanni Moretti’s Dear Diary, another film where a European director walked around with a camera talking about his own life.

You can imagine my sheer joy, I’m sure.

Dear Diary is split into three chapters, just like a real diary! (Or not.) The first of the chapters is Moretti talking about how wonderful it is to ride around on his Vespa. The second is about Moretti trying to find peace and quiet by travelling to various islands off the coast of Italy. The third is about his numerous visits to the doctors. Yes, it seems very much like he literally just adapted his actual diary for the screen.

“Chapter 1: On My Vespa” is literally that – Moretti on his Vespa travelling around the area near his home, visiting various neighbourhoods, going to the cinema and having a jolly good day out. There’s no plot in this section, with much of it just being following Moretti around while he provides a voiceover about his meandering thoughts, whether it’s on the state of modern cinema or just society in general.

Much of it baffled me. Moretti, I didn’t particularly like Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer either, but I don’t particularly want to sarcastically read the positive reviews back to the critics to try and somehow torture them. That’s kinda weird. Also, he rambled on at some guy in a Ferrari who stopped next to him at a traffic light, and I have no idea why.

There was also a strong sense that Moretti felt that all of his thoughts were super important and needed to be shared with the world, and since this was prior to the age of the blog (by the way, follow my blog!), he decided to make a movie instead. But then you realise how inane some of his thoughts are. He travels through a neighbourhood known for being a hive of scum and villainy akin to Mos Eisley from Star Wars, then decides it’s not that bad even though he barely spends any time there. He then goes on to proclaim that he feels that Flashdance was a movie about dancing, as if this fact wasn’t already bleeding obvious, leading him to harass a very confused-looking Jennifer Beals ,who openly calls him insane, and I agree.

But unlike Sans Soleil, there was a sense of fun about the movie, like Moretti was having the time of his life and wanted us to share in his enjoyment. This section did have a certain charm, even if it was pretty ridiculous and slightly pointless.

“Chapter 2: Islands” is the section with the most plot. Based on a real incident where he and a literary professor travel around a group of Italian islands desperate to find some tranquillity so they could concentrate on their work – the professor is studying Ulysses, while Moretti wants to work on…his diary apparently. Hm.

But because this felt like it had the most plot, this section felt the most enjoyable. There was a lot of humour here, particularly in the professor’s character. Initially proud to point out how he has never watched television in years, he eventually becomes addicted to American soap operas, even harassing a group of American tourists for spoilers.

That said, the same sense of everything feeling bizarre and pointless prevailed. A section about Moretti’s observation of how much children hijack family house phones stretched on for quite some time and wasn’t as funny as Moretti obviously thought it was. It was made worse by Moretti imitating the frustrated parents which felt like he was trying too hard.

There were also numerous long panning shots of the various islands designed to do little but show off the scenery (something Moretti was very fond of, it seems), often hanging around much longer than necessary and dragging the film out.

Then “Chapter 3: Doctors” happened, and the movie shifted tone rather abruptly. It went from a slightly playful observation of everyday life to Moretti being concerned about persistent itchiness he was suffering. This section of the movie was much more serious and felt entirely separate from everything that went before as a result.

However, it also got repetitive quickly. It was basically visit after visit to various doctors who just prescribed more and more medicine. I get that the real incident that inspired this section must have felt tiresome to live through, but it could have been toned down a little, or given a little more narrative than just itching, doctor’s visit, itching, doctor’s visit, suddenly cancer.

What’s worse is that this final cancer revelation is treated rather matter-of-factly. It’d be a perfect narrative thrust, but instead Moretti decides that the film needs to wrap up and just tells us that everything was fine, it was operated on and he’s all better now. Well, good, but you skipped over that pretty quickly considering YOU COULD HAVE DIED.

Overall, Dear Diary felt like it would have worked better as three separate movies, since none of the three chapters linked coherently and there’s no overarching theme beyond “I’m an Italian director and this is my life.” Overall, Dear Diary was a self-indulgent exercise that served little real purpose, although it was amusing at times.

Starring Nanni Moretti, Carlo Mazzacurati, Jennifer Beals, Alexandre Rockwell, Marco Paolini, Renato Carpentieri, Moni Ovadia & Mario Schiano
Written and produced by Nanni Moretti
Music by Nicola Piovani
Cinematography by Giuseppe Lanci & Marta Maffucci
Edited by Mirco Garrone

Favourite Scene: His professor friend running back to the boat because he realised there was no television, which I found genuinely funny
Scene That Bugged Me: The cancer reveal, which gets largely skipped over and felt it was added as an afterthought, especially a disappointment because of how repetitive the movie was prior to this

Watch it if: You like watching Italian filmmakers talk about themselves
Avoid it if: You don’t feel like watching the same doctor scenes over and over

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Posted on April 4, 2013, in 1990s, Biopic, Comedy, Drama, Italy, Mockumentary and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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