Monday, March 31, 2014

Those Happy Years (orig. Anni Felici) [2013]

MPAA (UR would be R)  OaC (3 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing listing*

TheHollywoodReporter (D. Young) review (S. Santoni) background article* (A.M. Abate) review* (C. Catali) review

Those Happy Years (orig. Anni Felici) [2013] [IMDb] []* (directed and screenplay cowritten by Daniele Luchetti [IMDb] []* along with Sandro Petraglia [IMDb], Stefano Rulli [IMDb] and Caterina Venturini [IMDb] story again by Daniele Luchetti [IMDb] []*) is an excellently crafted and acted Italian film that played recently at the 17th Annual European Union Film Festival held at the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago.

Patterned at least in part on writer/director Luchetti's [IMDb] []* own childhood experience, the story is told through the perspective of an adult named Dario looking back on the summer of 1974 when as a 10 year old (played in the film by Samuel Garofalo [IMDb] []*) and was growing-up in Rome in the household of a grasping, initially self-absorbed wannabe avant-garde artist, his father Guido (played by Kim Rossi Stuart [IMDb] []*), he observed the awakening of his mother Serena (played by Micaela Ramazzotti [IMDb] []*).  To be sure Serena must have always been quite formidable.  Beautiful and yet also a good wife and mother, and one who already and always knew that about herself.  Yet, in that summer of '74 with the winds of Feminism penetrating even into Italy and encouraged by an art-dealer and mutual friend of hers and husband's, named Helke (played by Martina Gedeck [IMDb] []*), she begins to assert herself in ways that changes the whole family. 

Were those changes without cost?  Certainly not.  (Since there is a chance that this film might actually play art-house circuit in the United States, I don't want to get into Spoilers).  But did these changes result in everyone in the family becoming more honest and arguably better people?  Certainly yes.  (Okay, I will add this minor spoiler -- her awakening and challenge to her husband improves his own art).

But what Dario seems to remember most is that though these were painful times in the life of his family, _looking back_ they were also "good" or "happy" ones.

Parents, this film is definitely not intended for children.  There is a good deal of female nudity in it (Again, Dario's father was trying to "live the dream" of a 1970s "avant-garde" artist... and Serena's own journey is not without its own infidelities).

But I do believe that it is a very honest, and then a very very well crafted film:  There are no stupid or careless use of "handheld" shots except and honestly ONLY when they do serve the plot (and that is RARELY).  Instead, this film bella figura all the way.

And some of the cinematography is truly worth an envious look by camera-folk even by those who would otherwise not be interested in the film's content: There's an extended shot in the film, for instance, in which several of the story's characters are heading back to Rome on a train in the late-evening.  The chaotic interplay of the lighting both inside the compartment and (through the glass windows of the train) outside is both remarkable and powefully _reflective_ of the confusion being experienced by the film's characters at the time. (And regardless of how any of the story's characters felt about things at the time, they were sitting in that train which was inexorably careening forward, beyond of the control of them sitting in their compartment, to its preset destination).  It's a stunningly, well-executed visual metaphor to what was going on at that point in the story and alone is WORTH THE TIME TO LOOK-UP THE FILM.

Then Micaela Ramazzotti [IMDb] []* playing Dario's mother Serena gives perhaps a CAREER DEFINING PERFORMANCE here as early 30-something _mother_ who's beautiful, elegant and strong -- a credible awakening feminist (and by the film's end, a fully awoken feminist) who can still pull-off (and enjoys pulling off) dressing-up (and looking really, really good) in a light summer dress and heels.  Why does she continue to dress-up so "nicely"?  For her husband (or men in general)?  No.  It's clear that she dresses nicely _for herself_ and perhaps also because she comes from a country with a LONG TRADITION of cutting some of the best-looking clothes in the world.   Italy is the land of Armani, Gucci and Versace, et al, after all, and with a fashion sense that goes back to Michelangelo, Da Vinci and the rest of the Italian Renaissance.

So this is a very very well crafted film, both elegant and yet real / nostalgic, done in the best Italian bella figura tradition: a visual feast with also some great acting performances.  Good job!

* Foreign language webpages are most easily translated using Google's Chrome Browser.  

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