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MOVIE REVIEW : 'Caro Diario' a Three-Part Visual Diary : Nanni Moretti's first American release shows that--despite some talent--he is not likely to enjoy the same success here as many other Italian filmmakers.


Nanni Moretti's "Caro Diario" (Dear Diary) introduces to American audiences the quirky Italian filmmaker whose eight films over the last 18 years have established him as a cult figure in his own country.

Although Moretti has an off-the-wall comic sensibility with an anti-Establishment attitude and a graceful style, he is not likely to enjoy the same success in America as many other Italian filmmakers. The man is funny, sometimes provocative, but he also seems parochial, his purported metaphysical concerns elusive--and he's not a little self-indulgent and long-winded.

Unfolding in three episodes, the film, his first to receive a U.S. release, is literally a visual diary. The first episode, "On My Vespa," is the strongest, in which Moretti, a trim, bearded man of 40, takes us on a highly personal motorcycle tour of Rome and its outskirts that is loaded with amusing encounters, including a meeting with none other than Jennifer Beals, the woman of his dreams ever since "Flashdance," a watershed experience for Moretti, a frustrated dancer.

There's a hilarious sequence that has him confronting an ailing critic (Carlo Mazzacurati) with his thuddingly pretentious review of "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer," which we glimpse dubbed into Italian. The episode concludes with Moretti paying a respectful visit to the site where controversial director Pier Paolo Pasolini was murdered. Throughout the "Caro Diario," Moretti is immensely aided by Nicola Piovani's vibrant, mood-establishing score.

In the second episode, "The Islands," Moretti and a friend, Gerardo (Renato Carpentieri), who's obsessed with both deciphering James Joyce's "Ulysses" and the medium of television, are supposed to be working on a script but embark on a tour of a series of idyllic island communities, where in one place they discover all the children love to give callers, eager to speak to their parents, a hard time on the phone.

If "The Islands" starts wearing thin, "Doctors," the final episode, wears even thinner as Moretti visits a raft of specialists, each with a different diagnosis and treatment, in search of a cure for his bad, widespread bodily itch. This single joke rapidly gets pretty tired; you soon wish you could tell Moretti to try slapping on some calamine lotion--and getting on with his life. But stringing us along--with varying effectiveness-- is his life.

* MPAA rating: Unrated. Times guidelines: It includes no sex, no violence (outside of the brief "Henry" clip), but much of the humor would be over children's heads.

'Caro Diario'

(Dear Diary)

Nanni Moretti: as himself

Gerardo: Renato Carpentieri

Jennifer Beals: as herself

Carlo Mazzacurati: film critic

A Fine Line Features presentation of a co-production of Sacher Film, Banfilm, La Sept Cinema, Studio Canal Plus in association with RAI Uno and Canal Plus. Writer-director Nanni Moretti. Producers Angelo Barbagallo, Moretti, Nella Banfi. Cinematographer Giuseppe Lanci. Editor Mirco Garrone. Costumes Maria Rita Barbera. Music Nicola Piovani. Production designer Marta Maffucci. In Italian, with English subtitles. Running time: 2 hours, 8 minutes.

* In limited release in Southern California.

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