Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Mon Jun 27, 2005 4:11 pm 
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A near-masterpiece, highly recommended

Watched on Italian DVD (using the standard-Italian subtitles for the hearing-impaired to decode the Sicilian dialect) for the first time March 2005. Winner of the top prize "Leone d'Oro" at Venice. Actually available as of 2004 on a US code DVD.

The title, referring to an old joke column, is ironic. The film's review of Italian post-war economic miracle years is deeply tinged with sadness and a sense of the price paid in innocence lost to gain security and status. The whole focus is on the love between two Sicilian brothers, Giovanni and Pietro. The angel-faced Pietro (Francesco Giuffrida) from the first appears devious. When his brother arrives at the station, he slinks off and hides from him. He's lazy, a dandy, a liar, a faker, a bad seed. Yet he's worshiped by the innocent, muscular, illiterate Giovanni (Enrico Lo Verso), who has turned up with other southern immigrants at the Turin railway station intending just to visit his baby brother as the film opens and then stays on in the North to support him.

The mise-en-scène is visually beautiful but conventionalizes the period into a kind of grimy poetry more worthy of twenty or thirty years earlier, no doubt consciously echoing Italian neorealist films (Amelio has been called the new De Sica) or becoming a glossier color version of Visconti's mournful epic tragedy of southern Italians in Milan, "Rocco and His Brothers" (1960). My DVD's Italian jacket copy translates a paragraph from Stephen Holden's 2001 NYTimes review expanding one of its key ideas: "'Così rideveno'has the power to keep its own secrets," this Italian version reads. "Without ever being moralistic, by the end it becomes the metaphor for a whole society that makes a kind of tacit pact with itself never to look too deeply into the hidden effects social processes have on individuals and their destinies." The interest -- and yet the frustration -- of the film is that its sequences each appear revelatory, but shed little light on the intervening periods of time. It is organized in a "rather elegant" manner (Rosenbaum) into a structure of microscopic views of single days out of each year from 1959 through 1964, each day designated by a key word: "arrivals," "deceptions," "money", "letters, "blood," and "families." This neat structure masks a surrounding mystery in the relationship between the two brothers, and we deduce for ourselves from the way they seek out and avoid each other how alike and interdependent they are. Each cherishes illusions about the other; one is proud, the other ashamed. Vivid and touching as the film is, it's also highly artificial, notably in how little of the two characters' lives is made clear, how little the world outside their relationship is explored.

Metaphorical indeed, "Così ridevano" explores an inseparable (and ultimately false) dichotomy between innocence and experience, naiveté and sophistication that may go to the heart not only of North-South relations but of the Italian soul. Both actors, Amelio regular Lo Verso and newcomer Giuffreda, are remarkable, and the scenes between them are heartbreaking.

So far the only other Amelio film I've seen is "The Housekeys" ("Le chiavi di casa," 2004), which being a documentary-like chronicle of a short stretch of contemporary time, seems so different, and yet on reflection is so similar in feeling. Obviously Amelio is an extraordinary director and I must see "Lamarica" and "Stolen Children" ("Il ladro di bambini"), both also starring the intense, soulful Lo Verso, which have received the highest praise of any of Amelio's films.

13 March 2005

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