An analysis of Nanni Moretti’s Caro Diario (Dear Diary)

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by Guy Shaked

Keywords: Italian Cinema, Nanni Moretti, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Shaked

Synopsis

First section: In Vespa (in scooter)
Alternative name: A journey between buildings.

In the first part of the film Moretti drives through the city of Rome on his scooter (Vespa) and among other things remarks on the architecture of the various Roman neighborhoods. He starts with the more beautiful and unique Garbatella (1927), he stops for an argument with an inhabitant of Casalpalocco (1962) and argues with him if it was best to move to live there thirty years ago when Rome was “so beautiful”. He also rides through the infamous one neighborhood of Spinaceto (1965), relatively a new neighborhood, which is always given as a bad example of a place to live in. However, upon closer examination the infamous neighborhood “is not bad at all” because “I expected worse”.

For the final drive in the city suburbs Moretti goes to the place where Pasolini (The director - screen writer - poet) was assassinated. Pasolini in a certain ways has some affinity with Moretti: both are from the political left, both are original directors who are also their own screenwriters. The way there and the place with the grim looking little monument to Pasolini is run down and dirty and forsaken. Garbage tanks are by the side of the roads that are rundown and dirt is along the road while above hang laundry of the inhabitants. The statue on the place he was murdered in 1975 is crumbling and the steel scaffolds inside it are visible, behind it there is a football field where weeds have taken over. It is Nanni’s way of telling the spectator – This – The place where the great director and moviemaker Pasolini ended his life – is bad and rundown [1].

Second section: Isole (islands)
Alternative name : A journey between people.

The journey to the islands starts with Lipari. Nanni meets Gerardo his friend that moved there eighteen years ago to study James Joyce “Ulysses” – evidently an intellectual. The island he discovers is worse plagued by the destruction of civilization. Crowded streets with many cars honking. Gerardo , whom the audiacne is to discover is all pretence (as an fashionable intellectual) and lies, says that thirty years he had not watched Television because its of no cultural value as said by the German philosopher Hans Magnus Enzensberger [2]. Gerardo says it’s the first time ever he sees such a mess in this island.

The take the ferry to Salina - a more quite island. Gerardo can not help himself and sits to watch the T.V. on the ferry, later he will watch at his friends’s house and discuss the programs on a voyage with other friends. The families in the island have only one kid each – the kids are the center of life there and to escape this “childarchy” Nanni and Gerardo part to another island.

They pass Panarea which Gerardo says he never visited but knows every single club, disco, restaurant and pub. They do not stop there but continue to Stromboli. Gerardo uses Latin to hail Television, “Quam Juvat” it is he says. Here all the people except the mayor are very hostile and no one would accommodate them. When they are on a walk and reach the volcano, Gerardo asks Nanni to ask American tourists on the future events in the soup opera “the bold and the beautiful” (called plain “Beautiful” in Italy).

They return to Panarea but the touristy hospitality and activity offered on the beach makes them re-board the ferry immediately.

The last island they visit is Alicudi, which is most detached from Civilization and people. Gerardo discusses television again, speaks against Enzensberger, compares Odysseus’ voyage to a program on T.V. and writes a letter to the pope not to forbid soup operas because those are valuable. When he is told there is no television in the Island he escapes it to return to civilization attacking Karl Popper [3] and Enzensberger on the matter of the value of Television.

The section is therefore a tale of while sometime we want to detach ourselves from civilization with all its evils – once this happens we might find ourselves missing it and unable to continue without it.

Third section: Doctors
Alternative name : A journey between Doctors.

The section starts with a chemotherapy to Nanni – leaving the spectator wondering whether he is about to die or be hilled.

In this section Nanni can not stop scratching, goes to famous medical centers and doctors. As his scratch intensifies, and the Doctors orders and medications are to no avail, Nanni starts to doubt their treatment. Each doctor he meets, says the other doctor’s he saw treatments are not recommended by him (each one advising different treatment). One Doctor tells him his disease is even psychological in nature and not real.

He starts going to a Chinese medicine doctor because in his center everyone is at least sympathetic and tries to help. His increasing cough makes the Chinese doctor to send him to an X-ray examination. The errors continue as the doctor tells him he has cancer and will not live, but at the end they operate and fins out he has Hodgkins, which can be cured.

This section can be said to be about life and death that human errors and inability in many cases to help the suffering. So at the end Nanni offers to drink a glass of water in the morning – it might be healthy – or at least won’t do any harm.

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[1] The place was described as “the barren urban wasteland” in the review By Roger Ebert Chicago Sun-Times 11/23/1994

[2] Hans Magnus Enzensberger, "Television and the Politics of Liberation," The New Television: A Public/Private Art, edited by Douglas Davis and Alison Simmons. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1977

[3] Karl Popper, Interview. "Against Television" (London, 13/04/93)

© 2003

Analysis

Caro Diario is organized around three main dialectic axis. The first is the stylistic axis of motion versus station. All parts of the movie depict a journey (motion) which is stopped at various stations [1].

The first section of the movie: “In Vespa” in fact has been identified as a “road movie” [2] – for like a “road movie” it is also being composed of motion and station.

The whole movie has also been identified as some form of road movie with movements from one beautiful quarter to another, one inappropriate island to another, and from one wrong doctor to another [3]. This is transit motion from the same to the same (similar destinies). These journeys move to something different from their start and middle only at their ends.

The place of the first chapter “In Vespa” is the city and not the open plane like in American road movies. Yet to allow for free movement it is the empty city during the vacation time.

The distinction made between the first chapter of the movie (“In Vespa”) of purpose and destination is perhaps a bit overemphasized [4]. The first chapter having also a purpose (to discover the beauties of Rome’s sections) and has a destination (Pasolini’s death place) that is not specified at the beginning for suspense sake.

The lesson to be learnt exists also in “In Vespa” only it is visual and not verbal. The lesson is that one that is a part of a minority might end in non beauty and rejection from society. Also the lesson in Doctors is not a real one but merely an ironic statement.

The hinted suggestion that In Vespa is more postmodern than the other two chapters by Rascaroli [5] seems convincing. Perhaps in that lays its main difference from the other chapters.

As to “In Vespa” being more of a road movie than the other chapters - that seems not to be the case.

Its only seems more of a road movie on the surface because of having longer and more motion sections than the other chapters. For, in the second chapter “Islands” the motion is less prominent being from inside a marine vehicle (with shots of repeating waves signifying the movement) or slow (on foot at Panarea) or on a three wheels car at Stromboli or climbing with a donkey at Alicudi.

After investigating and representing all other forms of surface transport, at the third and final chapter “Doctors” appears finally the normal car. But “Doctors” is a road movie stuck in its stations and traffic jams to create the sense of unstoppable annoyance from being stuck with a skin disease. So the car which was only a default choice (because the Vespa was not functioning) is stuck in traffic jams or seen against a background only of night.

Regarding the first axis: The film could be said to be about all types of surface movement – moving from the freely moving Vespa to the stuck in traffic car. It is also movement from the light (looking for beautiful views) in the first chapter to the more serious (life and death) in the third.

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The second axis along which the movie is concerned is conformity versus rebellion (a dialectic axis of road movies as well as the western [6]). In “In Vespa” the hero stopped at a crossroad traffic light and talks to a person in open car of how he always finds himself in the minority:

“Do you know what I have been thinking? I have been thinking a very sad thing, that is that I, even in a society more decent than this, will always find myself with a minority of persons.”

The chapter ends with the examination of what happened to another social rebel – Pasolini. He died in a god forsaken place and his tomb is neglected and run down - forgotten by society.

In the second chapter Moretti’s friend - Gerardo. Rebels against television and mass culture in general. So the heroes look for a place of solitude.

They reach the island of Salina where everybody conforms and has one child only. The persons they meet speak as if raising only one child is an original idea of them, yet they are all alike the others. Later, they meet the mayor of Stromboli who has a grudge against his inhabitants of thinking small time and sees himself as a kind of original person rebelling against the general mentality of the island’s inhabitants . When Moretti and his friend finally find solitude in the island of Alicudi, Moretti’s friend can not bear being without society’s comforts and wants back to return to society.

In Islands in Caro Diario (1993) there is an hinted reference to the Italian movie Nuovo Cinema Paradiso (1988). For the opening film of the Nuovo Cinema Paradiso (the film house renovated after the fire) is the same one that is quoted in the beginning of Isole (the second chapter of Nanni Moeretti's Caro Diario) - Anna (1951) [7].

In both movies (Moretti's and Tornatore's) the black and white film Anna (1951) opens the second part (if we include the director's cut from Cimena Paradiso as that movie's third part).

Moretti uses this reference to contradict Gerardo's rejection of TV as low culture. For it is as if Moretti is demonstrating that low culture (The film Anna staring Silvana Mangano with dance sequences) could inspire high culture (Tornatore's Nuova Cinema Paradiso). To support his idea that low culture TV, like the American soap opera "The Bold and the Beautiful" (mentioned in Isole in Caro Diario) is not without good and could serve in high culture creations like his movie Caro Diario.

In the third chapter, Moretti first obeys what the doctors tell him – he conforms. Later he a bit rebels as he questions a doctor’s prescription when he finds from another that it might cause allergic reaction and be dangerous. He decides not to take the possibly allergy causing stuff. Later he a bit rebels as he looks for non-conventional western medicine when he goes to the Chinese health center.

At the end he seemingly rebels the final rebellion he can – resorts to irony and suggests a glass of water everyday as a medicine – at least it won’t do him any harm.

Regarding the second axis: the three chapters of Caro Diario all show the futility of rebellion: Pasolini’s memory is neglected, there is no running away from society, and the only rebellion there can be against modern medicine is drinking a glass of water (obviously won’t save someone who has cancer).

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The third dialectical axis around which the movie is organized is the culture vs. nature axis.

In the first chapter the journey through culture: buildings and houses of Rome’s neighborhoods ends with a view of nature. The weeds growing wild and covering Pasolini’s tomb in neglected no man’s land (a kind of wilderness). It is the victory of nature – yet it is but an insignificant small one – at the outskirts of the city (culture), over neglected monument of the rejected from mainstream society (the establishment). The defeat of nature in the second chapter “Islands” is even greater. At the slopes of the magnificent creation of nature – the volcano of “Stromboli”, Gerardo, Moretti and American tourists are occupied of the content of the “Bold and the Beautiful” (in Italy called simply “Beautiful”) and not with the awesome and magnificent force of nature under their feet and before their eyes, a force displayed in a famous movie by Rossellini – “Stromboli” [8].

When Moretti and Gerardo manage to escape culture to isolated and not technology connected Alicudi with a donkey as means of transportation – Gerardo can not stand the new situation and run (literally) back to culture’s arms.

The third chapter – “Doctors” ends with Moretti suggesting to drink a glass of water everyday. At least it won’t do any harm (its natural – from nature). Yet this ironical remark is one of the looser (=nature), for it is clear chemotherapy (=medical technology) cured Moretti’s culture – and a glass of water could not do that.

Regarding the third axis: The film can be said to be about the lost battle between nature and culture, the later having the upper hand.

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To conclude: The film seems to revolve around the theme of the victory of culture (society, technology) over rebellion as it wins even over awesome nature and the battle for life and death.

Read more of Guy's work in the book: Masters of Italian Sculpture

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[1] “The whole film could easily be analyzed in terms of movement”. Rascaroli Laura, “New Voyages to Italy: Postmodern travelers and the Italian road film”, Screen 44:1 (Spring 2003), p. 88

[2] Jean, A. Gili, “Entretien avec Nanni Moretti: Le Plaisir de reconter plus librement”, Positif, 399, (May 1994), p. 12

[3] Ibid.

[4] See footnote no. 1, idem.

[5] idem, p. 89

[6] Laderman, David, “Driving Visions: Exploring the road movie”, Uni. Of Texas Press, Austin, 2002, p. 35

[7] On the role of Anna (1951) in Cinema Paradiso see: Marcus, Millicent, "After Fellini: National Cinema in the Postmodern Age", John Hopkins Uni. Press, Baltimore, 2002, p. 206

[8] Mazierska, Ewa & Rascaroli, Laura, “The Cinema of Nanni Moeretti: Dreams and Diaries”, Wallflower Press, London, 2004, p. 35

© 2006

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