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November 27, 2020 | Rome, Italy

Loving and hurting

By | 2018-03-21T18:48:07+01:00 February 23rd, 2012|"Critics Notebook"|
Giannini and Bergen in “La fine del mondo nel nostro solito letto in una notte piena di pioggia," 1978.
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ttore Scola’s 1975 “C’eravamo tanto amati” is not only an idiosyncratic “history” of Italy from the end of World War II through the early 1970s but also an elegiac homage to the country’s neorealist king Vittorio de Sica (it’s dedicated to him) and the other significant Italian filmmakers (Rossellini, Antonioni, and Fellini) who chronicled both the squalid and the surreal in post-war Italy.

Three Resistance-era friends Antonio, Gianni, and Nicola (Nino Manfredi, Vittorio Gassman, Stefano Satta Flores) — now somewhat melancholy and middle-aged — gather in Rome and use old movies as means to recall the highs and lows of their youth. For Scola all personal history is genetically tied to movies. Thus, the three men (Nicola is a film critic) are lightening rods for remembered footage. They are also three very fine actors. The memory lane device gives Scola an enchanting opening to promote the directors he reveres.

Movies also affect the men in their day-to-day. While poking around and reminiscing, they come upon Fellini working on a Rome scene, and Marcello Mastroanni shows up during the shoot. These sublime moments, a tribute within a movie and a movie within a tribute, play out like an old tourist map with cellophane overlays in which ancient Rome and Rome of the present are connected between smudged translucent sheets.

Scola is never self-conscious and expects credulity. This is homage, after all. It’s a conceit with set pieces, including Stefania Sandrelli as a love interest. He wants each one packed and visually edible. Though the men have retreated into their separate cocoons over time, stained by age and Italy’s real-life reversals, films and their themes ensure that they can never be outdated. Not any one film, but the art of filmmaking as it affects the human condition.

It’s the kind of passionate and generous remembrance (ideological also; Scola was an Italian Communist) that has vanished, together with the wild idealism that reared it.

Lina (she of the aphoristic titles) Wertmüller and Giancarlo Giannini were also key players in that period, stapled to one another for most of the 1970s. She was the crusty, feminist director; he was just Giannini: insufferably handsome, insouciantly working class.

When she set about making “La fine del mondo nel nostro solito letto in una notte piena di pioggia” (“A Nightful of Rain”) in 1978, expectations were low. Giannini joined at the hip (and elsewhere) with Mariangela Melato was one thing; Giannini with an American actress was… improbable. Yet it’s the presence of Candice Bergen in her acting prime that makes the chemistry both intriguing and at times mesmerizing.

Gianni (Giannini), a Communist journalist, falls for American Lizzy (Bergen), a feminist photographer, getting her to join him in Rome — and for once Rome is actually gloomy and rainy. No “Roman Holiday” sunny days here. Though Wertmüller presses ahead with her irrepressible leftism (at times dogmatic and annoying) this is really a story of a broken relationship.

Once married, Gianni and Lizzy have left except memories of their courtship. Their immediate reality, marred by cultural misunderstandings, is a train wreck. American critics savaged the film, claiming Wertmüller was a dinosaur (largely because Giannini plays a male archetype unknown in the North American zoo). How could a man as “intelligent and knowing” as Gianni, asked The New York Times, behave so irrationally and crassly toward his wife? Duh.

In that sense, Wertmüller was in no-win territory: she failed to satisfy Italians, who resented Lizzy, and flunked with English-speakers, who called the whole thing superficial. One nation’s superficial is another’s beating heart, and stop here to count the number of movies that take a decent stab a cross-cultural relationships. A doomed but challenging effort best understood by those who appreciate its Rome context.

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A monthly taking stock of our favorite and least favorite movies, both old and new, from the archives of our eternally good-natured critics.

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