C’eravamo tanto amati – We All Loved Each Other So Much

Italy, 1974

Directed by Ettore Scola

With Vittorio Gassman (Gianni), Nino Manfredi (Antonio), Stefano Satta Flores (Nicola), Stefania Sandrelli (Luciana), Giovanna Ralli (Elide Catenacci), Aldo Fabrizi (Romolo Catenacci)

This commedia all’italiana tackles three decades in the country’s history, from the final months of World War Two up to 1974. It takes the viewpoint of a group of three friends who were part of a group of partisans fighting Fascists and Germans and who have stayed in touch more or less closely in the following decades.

They are Antonio, Gianni and Nicola, in that order – which has nothing to do with the alphabet and everything to chronology. After the first sequence illustrating a wartime event, Antonio is the first character whose life is related, with his voice narrating the narrative’s development. He reminds the audience the political context (in particular the birth of the parliamentarian regime), hints at the differences in opinions between the mates, describes his work as a Rome hospital employee and, above all, meets Luciana, whom he will love throughout the years. Later Gianni is introduced to the audience, and he upsets Antonio’s life by seducing Luciana. Gianni struggles to be a successful lawyer and ends up as the collaborator of a dubious businessman, Romolo Catenacci. Finally, Nicola moves to Rome after he lost his job in a provincial town because of his political views. So, the trio is formed again while the guys must deal with the tensions brought by changes in society and in their personal situations.

Vittorio Gassman, Nino Manfredi and Stefano Satta becoming brothers in arms and beginning their lifelong and complex friendship

Each of theses lead characters is clearly typified. Antonio is the unfortunate blue collar confronted with unexpected incidents and doomed to a life of material mediocrity. Gianni is the idealist who eventually aids and abets corruption and makes an unhappy marriage in order to have a swanky and easy way of life, which he would try to hide from his comrades. Nicola is the passionate, exuberant intellectual who flees provincial conformism to pursue a career linked to his love of cinema – but in Rome he barely ekes out a living.

The three friends are entangled in their material difficulties (from the checkered career of Antonio to the frustrations of Gianni, to Nicola’s failure to win a TV contest) and their hopeless love affairs (Nicola stubbornly keeps his own little family at bay; the relationship between Gianni and his spouse, Elide Catenacci, worsens and ends up with Elide’s suicide; Antonio stubbornly courts Luciana even as she does not hold the same feeling). As time flies by, they also stand rather as mere witnesses than real actors of social change (quite the opposite of the beginning, when they were fighters and hopeful young men). During the meal they share at the end, they must acknowledge that society has changed them more than they have changed it.

The bittersweet reflection has an ironic ring to it; yet sarcasm is not in the order, and the narration alternates comical situations with more moving and sensible moments; characters are not always caricatures and personal suffering is movingly examined, in particular in women’s case. A keen sense of farce helps paint characters’ weaknesses (especially Nicola’s) and grotesque descriptions (like the life of Catenacci) poke easy fun at the shortcomings of the new financial and political systems. The cynicism of big business, in particular in the construction and real estate realm, and the trend to politicize every aspect of life get hilarious and well-deserved flak. The audience is left wondering, along the personages, how Italians actually failed to draw more benefits and opportunities from the economic development of the postwar era.

Endearing characters, an unforgiving examination of the society and the pleasure of comedy: the film offers a lot to entertain. But “C’eravamo tanto amati – We All Loved Each Other So Much” has another, more fascinating dimension.

The process of filmmaking is modified and questioned even as the story goes on. In a first, rather conventional fashion, different kinds of pictures follow each other: reconstruction of wartime, archives, Antonio working in a 1947 hospital. When Luciana brings him at a theater, they watch an avant-garde play, where one after the another, actors tell aloud the thought of their characters under a spotlight while the rest of the cast freeze their gestures and stand in the dark. And, lo and behold, this idea becomes a feature of the movie, enabling Gianni and Luciana to reveal their feelings to the audience. The movie keeps surprising the audience as it looks for the best visual expressions: Nicola introduces himself by speaking directly to the camera and announcing a narrative change; the move from the 1950s to the 1960s is marked by the change from black and white to colors, and skillfully linked to the drawing of a painting on a sidewalk; after her death, Elide talks with Gianni in a supernatural scene where he never appears stunned or shocked by this odd encounter. The narrative form is remarkably fluid with astute, smooth transitions, events streaming organically and naturally.

Nicola’s passion is the history of Italian cinema; he is fired from a school because of his staunch support of Vittorio de Sica’s “Ladri de biciclette” (1948). This character puts together the need for political fight and the trust in the power of filmmaking. His hero appears at the end of the film, as de Sica (the film is dedicated to the director who died just at the end of the shooting) is talking to a crowd in a stadium about his work. Another director is present: as Luciana looks for a cameo job, the most famous sequence of “La Dolce Vita” is reconstructed, Federico Fellini playing himself and discussing with Luciana and many others on the set (including Marcello Mastroianni). A film shot within a film: this is not new stuff, but it fosters here the wonderful idea that cinema is part of the characters’ life and of the nation’s history at the same time. Other movies are quoted; it leads to a big accumulation of references which is not tantamount to a wanton game of quotes but does build a network of shared experiences between the characters, the social context. and the cinematographic art they belong to. Filmmaking becomes a running commentary of the story, bringing more insight to it even as anecdotes shape the mise en scène.

More than narrating the funny and sad adventures of three friends, “C’eravamo tanto amati” is an ambitious effort to paint a country’s history while paying tribute to the very media used to narrate the plot and the subtexts. Ettore Scola thus offers a richly textured movie experience which, beyond stirring genuine empathy, invites the audience to appreciate the changes that Italy underwent and the part cinema played in expressing them.

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