Cario diario: If You Want a Driver, Climb Inside, by David Bax

Upon the initial release of Nanni Moretti’s Caro diario (it means, “Dear diary”), the film collected a number of accolades, chief among them a Best Director prize at Cannes. Moretti had produced notable works prior, like 1985’s The Mass Is Ended and 1989’s Red Wood Pigeon. And, in the years since, he’s kept up a steady profile, receiving mostly positive attention for movies like 2001’s The Son’s Room, 2011’s We Have a Pope and 2015’s Mia Madre. But now, thanks to Film Movement’s “virtual cinema” partnerships, you can rediscover his most celebrated work, remastered in 2K.

True to its title, Caro diario is an autobiographical, memoiristic, semi-documentary work. Separated into three chapters–each introduced with title penciled on notebook paper–we follow Moretti first on a Vespa tour of Rome in its semi-deserted summer months, then on an island hopping excursion in an attempt to find a secluded enough place to work on preparing his next movie and then finally on a year-long journey through the health care system (both empirical and holistic) in an attempt to remedy a mysterious malady.

Like most of Moretti’s films, Caro diario is largely, drily comedic. At the center of it all is Moretti himself, whose unflappable persona–inquisitive almost to the point of peevishness–makes him something like a silent comedian, especially in the first chapter when, whether he’s aboard his Vespa or not, he never removes his helmet. The impression deepens in the second chapter when, in one of the film’s best scenes, he dances along to a musical number on television while waiting for his order in a sandwich shop.

As Moretti tools around Rome’s narrow, winding streets, I thought to myself, “There are parts of Beverly Hills that look just like that.” And as he steps on and off of ferries on Italy’s coastal islands, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Catalina. It’s not a surprise that Moretti’s Italy looks so much like Southern California, given his preoccupation with mainstream American cinema. Specifically, he disdains ugly, raw, independent films like Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (he hilariously wonders if critics who gave it good reviews have trouble sleeping at night). Meanwhile, he adores overblown, fantastical dream factory stuff like Flashdance, which makes it a treat when he encounters Jennifer Beals and her then-husband Alexandre Rockwell, playing themselves. Beals finds the sweetest, most polite way possible to call Moretti an idiot.

Moretti seems to have less time or patience for contemporary Italian films, whose fatalistic navel-gazing he finds bland and narcotizing. He feels alienated from his supposed peers, former revolutionaries who have turned bourgeois while he remains free. He has the same sort of feeling again in the second chapter, lamenting that, when people his age call each other, they have go through each other’s kids, who are always the first to answer the phone. Caro diario playfully depicts–and with no small measure of self-deprecation–the loneliness of the noncomforist.

There’s a way to view Caro diario, though, in which all of this is just window dressing, tangential to the film’s true purpose as a travelogue (especially in its first two chapters). Seeing Rome by motor scooter while listening to Leonard Cohen, visiting islands by ferry with a friend, even traveling from doctor’s office to doctor’s office by car;in almost all cases, the camera follows from behind, trying to keep up. Caro diario is as much a guided tour of Italy as it is of a man’s minor midlife crisis.

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