Is it possible to make an amusing film about one's own life, starring, written by and directed by oneself, complete to foibles about health, obsession with movies and numerous ironic asides, and not be called "The (country of origin) Woody Allen."
So here's "Caro Diario" by Nanni Moretti, the Italian Woody Allen, which opens today at the Charles in rotation with "To Live." And here's the bad news: No, I don't know Woody Allen, but Nanni Moretti, you're no Woody Allen. And here's the good: You may be the Italian Ross McElwee.
Ross McElwee? Ten points if you remember. You, in the back. No, he didn't write "Raintree County" -- that was Ross Lockridge. To the right? No, he didn't write "The Moving Target." That was Ross Macdonald.
You, up front. Yes, he did direct "Sherman's March: An Improbable Search for Love," back in 1986, a completely absorbing and delightful diary film, about a young documentary director who gets a grant to do a film on an important historical subject but instead spends the money on a film about his own romantic melancholy. It's the "Citizen Kane" of diary movies, a cult item extraordinaire.
"Caro Diario" is actually three little tales about the literal Nanni Moretti, with no apparatus of fiction placed between the viewer and himself (unlike Allen and like McElwee). The first is the purest. It's got charm oozing from its pores: Moretti, his own best cinema resource, on his Vespa and under his helmet, roaming the streets of Rome while recording his impressions and reporting on his illusions and obsessions.
These are all amusing. He's haunted by John McNaughton's "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer," and if McNaughton is in town directing another episode of "Homicide," he ought to get down to the Charles and see what Moretti does with his violent, sleazoid masterpiece.
Nanni's also bitter over the stilted condition of the Italian art movie, which he parodies ruthlessly. He's also obsessed with Jennifer Beals, in "Flashdance." And who should he bump into on the streets of the Eternal City? Why, Jennifer Beals, with a snooty boyfriend; a very funny scene.
The two subsequent stories aren't up to the level of "On My JTC Vespa," but they have their share of amusing moments. They follow, respectively: Moretti's adventures trying to get some work done on the islands in the company of an austere intellectual who has been studying Joyce for years but has just discovered daytime television; and Moretti's attack by an unpleasant itch that won't go away, no matter what ungents and salves the Italian medical establishment prescribes.
Don't go to "Caro Diario" expecting gut-busting yuks that leave the tears coursing down your face and your head desperate for oxygen. It's a small, amusing movie that's long on charming affability.
Directed by Nanni Moretti
Starring Nanni Moretti
Released by Fine Line Features
Unrated (no nudity, profanity or violence)