by Roderick Conway Morris

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'Industrialized sentimentality'

By Roderick Conway Morris
VENICE 18 September 1998


Directed by Gianni Amelio. Italy.

This production won the Golden Lion for best film at this year's Venice Film Festival against exceptionally weak competition. Ettore Scola, the Italian director who headed the jury, was subsequently quoted as saying that at one point in the panel's deliberations the film had only one vote in its favor, and one member had described it as 'industrialized sentimentality.' Although this is the first Italian film to win Venice's top prize for a decade, local critics have also been divided as to its merits. 'Cosi Ridevano' means, literally, 'The way they laughed' (though its makers have rendered this in English 'The Way We Laughed'). This is a reference to a newspaper jokes column contemporary with the story's setting in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and is an index of the film's general tendency to an obscure particularity that risks leaving foreign audiences scratching their heads and wondering what it is all about. The film purports to tackle the theme of the mass exodus of labor from the poor south to the industrialized north, unquestionably one of the most important events in the making of modern Italy. Yet it turns out to revolve entirely around the dysfunctional and ultimately destructive relationship between two Sicilian brothers, Giovanni (Enrico Lo Verso) and Pietro (Francesco Giuffrida). The older, illiterate Giovanni comes to Turin above all with the aim of seeing his kid brother through school, hoping he will one day become a teacher. Giovanni is prepared to do any job, however menial, to realize this vicarious dream, but Pietro spends most of his time playing truant, and eventually disappears. The ill-explained and not very credible denouement is so laborious and slow in coming that many exhausted viewers will surely regard it with a sense of numbed detachment. Turin and the look of the period is lovingly re-created in wintry, grainy color, but the film has such a narrow focus that it gives very little impression of the wider social drama that was then taking place. It fails, too, where Italian postwar film has sometimes so well succeeded, in giving the poor and inarticulate a voice. Amelio has made interesting, socially-aware films, including 'Stolen Children' and 'Lamerica,' but the awarding of the Golden Lion to this one is unlikely to enhance his reputation.

First published: International Herald Tribune

© Roderick Conway Morris 1975-2024