A Sketch of the First Episode in Nanni Moretti’s Caro Diario

I am currently writing a collection of articles on the auteur theory, exploring Sarris and his detractors, and as I finalise the first article I thought that a short article on the first episode of Caro Diario (1993) would be interesting. I am also in the process of writing a longer review of the second episode however I have a million and one ideas for articles and when that gets finished is hard to say.

“Vespa”

 

Nanni Moretti’s Caro Diario, “Dear Diary”, is a film split into three sections covering important elements of Moretti’s life. The first section, which this short article is evidently concerned with, called Vespa, reveals Moretti’s obsession with cinema and Rome. We follow Moretti’s Vespa as it weaves down long sun-drenched streets exploring and filming the classical, modernist and postmodernist architecture set to an energetic non-diagetic soundtrack. This section is filmed primarily using the tracking shot. The form of this technique allows us to engage in the same unadulterated pleasure Moretti feels gazing at the patchwork of modern Rome. As Rome is explored through Moretti’s favourite activity, riding the Vespa, we are invited into a strange whimsical narrative. Moretti’s opinions, dreams and desires are acted out in brief scenes and it becomes hard to differentiate between dreams, desires and biographical elements.

 

In one of the most hilarious moments we see Moretti despondent after seeing Henry: Portrait of A Serial Killer (1986) and as the camera slowly zooms into Moretti’s position, replicating our growing emotional connection with Moretti and our induction into his world, we hear his imagination fire. He wonders whether the critic who wrote the positive review of Henry ever reflects on, and is ashamed of, his reviews. We then cut to a scene where the silhouette of Moretti haunts the critic by repeating and rereading the critic’s own words to him just before bed. Moretti is giving the critic nightmares like Henry did to him. In another interesting moment Moretti starts to dance, while still on his Vespa, to the formerly non-diagetic soundtrack. This moment breaches even the apparently safe wall between the film world and the non-film world. Seconds later Moretti rebuilds the barrier between the diagetic and non-diagetic world by apparently appearing never to have started dancing at all. We have again slipped in and then out of Moretti’s imagination.

 

The choice of music in this episode, as with the whole film, is excellent. In one part of “vespa” the slow piano score beautifully matches the sadness and heartfelt emotion that Moretti feels when he finally decides to visit the site of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s murder. Even though the site, and drive to, is hardly a romantic or inspiring place Moretti’s slow tracking camera allows the innate beauty and emotion of his personal journey bleed into the final revelation of a small artwork celebrating and commemorating the deceased cultural icon Pasolini.

 

In the first section of Caro Diario Moretti has chosen to reject the traditional narrative structure of cause and affect. This allows Moretti to draw us into his subjective perception of Rome. This section, as the title suggest, is centralised by the regular motif of the Vespa, establishing a tentative interconnectivity between the continuously bizarre or angry or enamoured thoughts that stream into Moretti’s consciousness. In the first section of Caro Diario we travel between the gig-lamps of Moretti’s mind delighting in the feast of his highly perceptive and often self-deprecating humour.  A patchwork of desires, imagined conversations, monologues and situations Moretti has welded together, in the vespa episode, a postmodern mini-narrative of one man’s world.

 

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The Function of Chiaroscuro Lighting and Analepsis in Double Indemnity

Double Indemnity (1944)

Double Indemnity is a classic film noir. The film noir is a hard genre to define, but it is commonly said to be a collection of Aesthetical Principles and a more cynical outlook during and after WWII.1. Double Indemnity starts with non-diagetic music which installs a sense of urgency and action that mirrors a speeding car. The editing is smooth, as each cut dissolves into another, ensuring a clear understanding that time and space has moved in a linear fashion. The establishing shot of Walter Neff’s workplace stunts this fluid action, the camera then pans right, slowly following Neff into an office; which, conversely to building drama and frenetic action, constructs a sense of suspense. The editing, although linear, manipulates clock time, as the frame speed and scene change slows down as he enters the insurance building, this technique is the editing of a frames’ rhythm between shots. What this editing technique does is change the rhythm and pace of our perception, ensuring we gain a sense of drama and suspense.

 

In film noir lighting is an important aesthetical principle as this give clues to the characters’ function. As Neff enters the office we only see thin bars of white light, projected across his chest, as if he was in a jail. As he switches the light on, the room is flooded with white and all shadows are removed. This technique is called Chiaroscuro2, the artful use of shades in black and white photography. This technique gives the viewer clues about the nature of Neff’s actions; that he is seeking redemption, bringing himself out of the shadows metaphorically, in the form of a confession, into the light. This functions as an instantly identifiable trope which helps the viewer to understand Neff’s character and narrative function as the Male Protagonist – a key component of the film noir. The understanding of characterisation is essential in Classic Hollywood cinema; the opening scene unmistakably uses generic conventions of the film noir to construct Walter Neff, from the lighting of the set, his bare and uninspiring office, the mise-en-scene, and the continuous motif of lighting a match between his finger and thumb.

 

In film noir the narrative is always centred on partial redemption and rationalisation of the male protagonist’s actions. In Double Indemnity this is done through the narrative technique of analepsis, or the flashback. The narrative device of analepsis is a classic film noir device which critic Schrader tells us creates a sense of ‘an irretrievable past, a predetermined fate, and an all-enveloping hopelessness’3 this outlook is culmination of the pre-war depression and WWII. As Walter Neff starts his confession the camera focuses on his face with a medium close-up. The camera position is mimicking the relationship between police and suspect, and although he’s talking into a voice-recorder, we can assume that we are meant to be placed in that moralising position. The combination of chiaroscuro and analepsis gives Double Indemnity a dark, unsentimental vision of America and in this way Billy Wilder’s Film is a classic film noir.

 

1. Michael Walker ‘Film Noir: Introduction’ in Ian Cameron (Ed) The Movie Book of Film Noir. (London: Studio Vista) 1994 PP 8-38

2. Billy Wilder was earlier in his career a German Expressionist, and the expert use of Chiaroscuro is most likely due in part to this fact.

3. P, Schrader. ‘Notes on Film Noir’ in B.K, Grant. (Ed) Film Genre Reader II ( Austin: University of Texas Press) 1999 PP 119-221 P220

The Communication of Era In Cinema

Directors wishing to portray a definitive era in a movie use certain techniques which also produce nostalgic emotions of a sense of authenticity which are both beneficial to cinema as art and a commercial product. In Films such as O’ Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) the colour brown is used to produce an affect of a faded and lost past. This makes the film similar to looking at a very old photograph aged sepia-brown. This imbues the whole form of the film with a sense of a by-gone era. The use of browns also strips away, or inhibits, the editors’ [or whoever] ability to produce a slick glossy product as sepia-brown ensures an aesthetic affect which communicates a reality opposed to the whole editing process.

Another common technique, used more and more regularly due to the financial importance of a film having a commercially viable soundtrack, is the use of music. This is normally non-diegetic however occasionally this is a main part of the diegesis. One movie that uses music to produce a sense of era is Donnie Darko (2001). All through the film a classic eighties soundtrack is played which injects a sense of place, time and atmosphere. Using music of a definitive era helps communicate the atmosphere that the director wants as they can use a specific genre of music to imbue the film with an emotion. The music of the seventies can both be used to communicate a riotous sense of anger with a punk soundtrack and create a sense of love and romance with a use of disco soundtrack.