The Way We Laughed

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Italian writer-director Gianni Amelio’s latest film is in the long tradition of stories about bumpkins who come to the big city and are corrupted or irrevocably changed by the experience. Emphasizing his novelistic premise, Amelio has divided the film into six chapters — “Arrivals,” “Betrayals,” “Money,” “Letters,” “Blood” and “Families” — the titles suggesting the progress of innocence as it’s put through the hardening lessons of necessity before arriving back at some sense of original values. Beginning in 1958, each chapter moves the story ahead to the next year, so that the setting slowly evolves from an Italy that still seems to be scrabbling out of its wartime poverty to one experiencing a flush of relative affluence and bad circa-’64 pop music. For some Italians this must be a nostalgic trip; for film buffs it’s like going from De Sica grimness to the brittle modernity of Antonioni.

Giovanni (Enrico Lo Verso) arrives in Turin to join his younger brother, Pietro (Francesco Giuffrida), who is supposedly studying to become a teacher. Giovanni’s plan is to find work and support his brother who will be the first in their family to achieve white-collarhood, but Pietro turns out to be a dissolute idler who’d just as well be left alone. Giovanni, however, is so ceaselessly optimistic that Pietro decides to at least pretend to be studying and attending classes. The two couldn’t be more different: Giovanni is industrious and kindhearted while Pietro is a lout and an ingrate, and it’s soon obvious that one’s headed for a rude awakening while the other, hopefully, will achieve some sort of redemption.

Amelio has a fondness for narrative ellipses; he likes to take a situation up to the threshold of some crucial point and then drop it and pick things up a year later, leaving the audience to surmise (or not) how things turned out. This keeps the viewer engaged, but also has the cumulative effect of seeming an annoying affectation. But Lo Verso does a charismatic turn as a good man made ruthless by love and Amelio does a pretty good job of depicting the often-baffling persistence of family ties.

Showing exclusively at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit), Monday at 7:30 p.m. Call 313-833-3237.

Richard C. Walls writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail him at letters@metrotimes.com.

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