(On watching ‘Henry – Portrait of a Serial Killer) “I wandered around the city for hours trying to remember who was it that said good things about this film. I read a review in a paper. I read something positive about “Henry”. Suddenly, I remember… I find the review and I copy it in my diary. Here it is: “Henry kills people but he’s a kind of good guy. Only facts count for him. Otis is the real scum. Henry has a mad solidarity with his victims. A prince of annihilation, promising a merciful death. The director awakens the public to its worst nightmare: a shower of gore, impaled eyes, martyred flesh, abomination. Henry, the first to dismember the criminal philosophy of the Hollywood racists.” I wonder if, whoever wrote this before falling asleep has a moment of remorse.”
‘Caro diario’, directed by Nanni Moretti in 1993, is an Italian comedy following the director in three episodes. The first sees him exploring the city of Rome on a Vespa, encountering locals, musing on architecture and movies, bumping into Hollywood actress Jennifer Beal and finally conducting a pilgrimage to the site of the murder of Pier Paolo Pasolini. The second episode follows Moretti as he and his friend Gerardo, played Renato Carpentieri, journey through the Aeolian Islands in search of solitude and peace. Gerardo is a Joyce scholar who is dismissive of popular culture. Staying with friends with an over-indulged child, Gerardo becomes addicted to television soap operas and, when finally arriving on an island without electricity, he becomes panicked at missing his new addiction. The final chapter charts Moretti’s illness. Beginning with itching and insomnia, the director visits a string of dermatologists before discovering her actually has non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a treatable form of cancer. This diagnosis causes him to reflect on his life. At first glance, the three episodes are unconnected, disparate events in the life of the director, fictionalised but with enough detail to be clearly based on his real life. It becomes clear, however, that each explores a different level of his life. The first on the city he lives in, with that strange connection between Rome and its inhabitants recalling the films of Fellini (‘Fellini’s Roma’), Paolo Sorrentino (‘The Great Beauty’) and Pasolini (Mamma Roma). The second on the relationships the director has with others, strangely distant and, at least in the fictionalised world of the film, ridiculous. Finally, the film explores the body of the director, as if each episode has ‘zoomed’ in on him.
Would I recommend it? It’s a fresh, sunny film, perfectly exploiting the locations and, despite the wry and eccentric comedy, providing a surprisingly profound meditation on life. Watch in a double bill with ‘The Great Beauty’ or any Fellini.