American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
Nanni Moretti is a filmmaker as well regarded in Italy as Woody Allen is in the United States. Their movies are somewhat similar: autobiographical examinations of life and death, sidetracked by comedy. But just as Allen's films have not traveled especially well to Europe, so Moretti has not done well in America. "Caro Diario" is the first of his eight films to get much of a release in this country, helped by its award for best director at the 1994 Cannes Film Festival.
One wonders to what degree the award was inspired by the special nature of the film's content. Toward the end of the movie we discover that Moretti suffered for a year from a skin rash, which finally was diagnosed as cancer-related, and that after doctors told him he would not survive the disease, he did. Moretti doesn't tell the story as a bid for sympathy - nothing is farther from his style - but it works that way anyway, and the effect of "Caro Diario" is a little like the famous cover that said: "Buy this magazine or we'll shoot this dog." As he shows himself in this film, Moretti is sort of a holy fool, a man blessed with a sweet temper and a childlike curiosity, who wanders through Rome encountering the delightful and the terrifying, more or less in the same spirit.
The movie (which translates as "Dear Diary") is divided into three segments. In the first, he tours Rome on his Vespa scooter, talking to us, and to people he meets on the streets, about the things on his mind.
One thing he thinks a lot about is the movies. He loves "Flashdance" and is delighted to encounter its star, Jennifer Beals, with her husband, Alexandre Rockwell. They discuss notions of the "whimsical," while all the time Moretti remains blissfully unaware that, for them, his character is clearly all too whimsical. Then Moretti moves on, observing that in summer all the Roman cinemas show nothing but horror and pornography. He goes to see "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer," cannot imagine how it got good reviews, and in a fantasy sequence confronts the critic who wrote a rave and reads it to him, over and over again.