The famous left-wing director Nanni Moretti is going to make an odd film, whose production he has already attempted to begin many times in the past: a musical concerning the life of a Trotskyist pâtissier in the narrow-minded Italy of the 1950s. As soon as the first day of shooting finally comes, Moretti is overwhelmed by doubts and stops the film's production. Then he plans to undertake a documentary about the upcoming 1996 general election, in which the centre-right coalition – led by the former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi – will face a new centre-left alliance – coordinated by Romano Prodi. Although the Italian Left wins the election for the first time in history, allowing him to film a lot of documentation, Moretti seems to be interested neither in politics nor in cinema: he is only concerned with his private life, since Silvia, his wife, is giving birth to Pietro, their first child.
Released in 1998, Aprile appears as a strange hybrid, taking a pivotal place in Nanni Moretti’s career. Neither staged nor documentary, Aprile instead mixes the two forms. Hence, for chronological and narrative reasons, the film stands between two successful, both Cannes-awarded, productions: the allegedly more personal and episodic Caro diario/Dear Diary (1993), and La stanza del figlio/The Son's Room (2001), Moretti's return to making a full-length narrative feature film.
The transitional character of Aprile is also attested, as well as by its intrinsic nature as a cinematic ‘notebook’, by some textual features, such as its unusual length (only 78 minutes), and the aspect ratio, the almost obsolete, TV-like 1,66:1.
These traits seem useful in order to connect Aprile to its explicit reference point: Iranian cinema of the early 1990s, namely Salaam Cinema/Hello Cinema (Mohsen Makhmalbaf, 1994) and Nema-ye Nazdik/Close-Up (Abbas Kiarostami, 1990), which Moretti also supported during those years through his activity as a cinema owner. The phenomenological gaze and the loose dramatic tension of the Iranian models, which had informed Caro diario, are also at work here in a slightly different way.
Moretti has usually been celebrated for the scathing brevity of his dialogues, which often became political catchphrases, rather than for the visual stylishness of his images. This film too provided Italian political debate with some long-lasting slogans (‘D'Alema, say something left-wing!’). Nevertheless, Aprile alternates the visually very flat, dialogue-heavy, real-life sequences, with the colorful takes of the –fantasized – film within the film, thus introducing a dreamy, uneven mood into Moretti's cinema, which will be developed in a totally different direction some years later in Il caimano/The Caiman (2006).
Though Moretti, predictably enough, acts both as a witness and a prophet with regard to the frustrated feelings of Italian progressive, middle-class culture, the whole film is in fact filled with a sense of doubleness, which apparently represents the director's human, as well as artistic, transition.
Two very rare and shocking events, the birth of Moretti’s son Pietro and the victory of the Left, make possible its balance between opposing impulses: documentary and musical, impegno (or ideological commitment) and escapism, idiosyncrasy and enthusiasm, (supposedly masculine) political commitment and (supposedly feminine) familial care. The later films of the Roman director suggest how precarious that balance was.