More than entertain, The Way We Laughed (Così ridevano) is a movie that makes you participate in its storytelling. Very rarely do we have to ‘fill-in-the-blanks’ about what happened offstage in American films; it’s not too usual, but more of a tradition, in Italian cinema. Italian cinematic tradition relies on a homogenous audience–a collective national consciousness. We see this repeatedly in Italian films’ references to themes of history and family that have impact on every citizen’s life: for example, the north-south issue, class divisions (the sub issues being the constant echo of communism, inept bureaucracy, the black market, mafia), and tribal loyalty (to brothers, lovers, family, region, country, etc).
Compare this to American movies, that always, no matter the genre, deal with money: Who has it, who doesn’t, how do you get it, what do you do with it once you have it.
The plot in a nutshell: Two brothers emigrate to Turin at the end of the Fifties. They’re Sicilian, have lost their parents,and maintain no family ties. The older works very hard to let the younger study and free himself from poverty through culture. The younger really isn’t much of a student but rather a puppy, a dandy. The older brother is ambitious, charismatic but illiterate. Both brothers are emotionally loaded with feelings of shame, deception, love, madness, and sacrifice.
The filmmaker (Gianni Amelio) unfolds the story by showing us six separate days, between 1958 and 1964. This is where the viewer fills in the blanks. Knowing Italian post-war industrialization helps. During the six episodes we see lifestyle changes– going from serious hunger and sub-human basement living conditions after the war to picnics, prosperity and comfortable life in the countryside, complete with longhairs and an accompanying 60s pop music soundtrack.
No female lead interferes with the tender, confusing, discontent and exploitive fraternal relationship. And there’s no fluid narrative. Each viewer makes up his own story about what MIGHT HAVE HAPPENED between the brothers during the six yearly jumps. The brothers each change, sometimes in horrifying ways.
The film won top prize,The Golden Lion, in Venice’s 1988 International Film Festival .Released in the US in 2001; on DVD in 2007. Stars the magnificent Enrico Lo Verso and Francesco Giuffrida.