FILMS

Candid camera

Two quirky films reinvent the art of the home movie

Brian D. Johnson December 12 1994
FILMS

Candid camera

Two quirky films reinvent the art of the home movie

Brian D. Johnson December 12 1994

Candid camera

FILMS

Two quirky films reinvent the art of the home movie

BRIAN D. JOHNSON

He has been called the Italian Woody Allen, and there is indeed a resemblance. Nanni Moretti is a skinny, cerebral, middle-aged guy who writes, directs and stars in his own movies. He makes ingenious fun of his own neuroses, and balances broad comedy with metaphysical curiosity. But while Alen cuts a conservative figure with his formal style and moral baggage, Moretti displays a surreal

lightness of touch and a subversive soul.

CARO DIARIO IDEAR DIARY)

Directed by Nanni Moretti

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. He suffers through it, then imagines torturing a critic, who raved about the film, by reading his review back to him.

As the camera scans Roman architecture, old and new, Moretti muses rhapsodically about houses. He confesses that he often invites himself into strangers’ homes pretending he is scouting locations for a movie—“a film about a Trotskyist pastry chef during the 1950s, a musical.” With deadpan sincerity, he stops people in the street to tell them that “Flashdance was the film that changed my life,”

Caro Diario (Dear Diary), for which Moretti won the best director prize at the Cannes Film Festival in May, unfolds as a personal odyssey in three distinct chapters. In the first, the camera follows the director, who plays himself, as he zooms around on his Vespa motor scooter. In the second, he goes on a whimsical excursion through the Eolie Islands. The third episode takes a more serious turn as Moretti discovers he has an alarming illness.

The first chapter is the best. With fabulous music in the foreground, ranging from Latin funk to Leonard Cohen, the camera tracks Moretti on his Vespa while he delivers a hilarious narration about movies, architecture and his generation’s surrender to materialism. It is summer, Rome’s streets are strangely deserted, and there is nothing on at the movies except grim art-house fare such as

and goes searching for its star, Jennifer Beals. She shows up, of course, in a quirky cameo.

Smoothly downshifting from humor to melancholy, Moretti makes a pilgrimage to the tawdry seaside spot where director Pier Paolo Pasolini was murdered in 1975. In a long, unbroken shot, the camera simply follows his Vespa to the sound of exquisitely sad piano music by Keith Jarrett. The sequence is sublime, and oddly mesmerizing. It could go on forever.

Moretti resumes his absurdism with the second chapter, which tends to drag. He goes island-hopping with Gerardo (Renato Carpentieri), a professorial friend who has spent 11 years studying James Joyce’s Ulysses. Gerardo, who has not watched TV since the 1960s, becomes hooked on soap operas, and amid eruptions atop the volcanic island of Stromboli, he has Moretti yelling across the crater to get the latest soap-plot develop-

ments from American tourists.

In its final instalment, the diary adopts a more quotidian realism. It chronicles a gauntlet of medical exams that Moretti undergoes to treat a persistent skin disorder. Because he reveals the correct diagnosis at the start of the story, the merry-go-round of misguided prescriptions that he takes seems that much more absurd.

The trilogy’s parts do not really add up. But the asymmetry only enhances its one-of-kind charm. Dancing between poetry and farce, Caro Diario is boldly unconventional yet broadly entertaining, a film that reinvents the art of the home movie.

LOUIS THE 19TH: KING OF THE AIRWAVES

Directed by Michel Poulette

A satirical comedy from Quebec, Louis the 19th is a different kind of home movie. It, too, has a camera following one man wherever he goes, but it is based on a zany premise. A TV cable channel holds a “Big Star” contest in which the winner will become the first person ever to spend three months on live television, 24 hours a day. Assuming that mediocrity is the key to viewer identification, the station’s programming boss chooses the least charismatic of all the candidates, a nerdy TV salesman named Louis (Martin Drainville), to become the all-consuming star of Channel 19. With his innocuous, bumbling personality under a never-extinguished spotlight, Louis becomes a media darling, an international celebrity. But as he gains in stature and confidence, falling for a young actress named Julie (Agathe de la Fontaine), he becomes trapped by fame.

A likable fable, Louis the 19th was nominated for three awards at this week’s Genies, including best picture. In addition, director Michel Poulette was selected for the Claude Jutra Award for best new director. And the movie took the Golden Reel award for the highest-grossing Canadian movie of the year ending in September—a mark it reached even before opening last week in English-speaking Canada, with a box-office take of $1.8 million in Quebec alone.

The film’s appeal is not hard to fathom. The premise is a postmodern send-up of reality television and Warholian celebrity—while satirizing the café intellectuals who analyze the phenomenon in such highfalutin terms. Much of the comedy relies on the considerable talents of its Chaplinesque star, Drainville, who is wonderfully agile and expressive as the self-effacing naif who loses his innocence on camera. And Quebec comedy star Dominique Michel is delightfully camp as Louis’s flamboyant mother, who muscles her way into the limelight The story unfolds as a soap opera. As Louis has a falling-out with his mother or an intimate moment with Julie, the TV viewers watch, and we watch over their shoulders. Despite those layers, Louis the 19th is still pretty thin fare, a cartoonish farce with a sweet streak of romance. But it sure beats television.

BRIAN D. JOHNSON