Canon Entry - We All Loved Each Other So Much (1974)
Inspired by the 1001 Movies to Watch Before You Die, Edgar Wright’s 1000 favorite films and other lists, I am striving to come up with my own personal canon of films.
On the surface, We All Loved Each Other So Much is not a movie that really travels well across culture and language. It is very dialogue-heavy and very specific to a time and place that not many people have familiarity with. There is some visual flair and effective use of voiceover, but even the characters’ concerns are too alien to most modern audiences. Additionally, Ettore Scola, while a well-regarded director in Italy, is not a name you hear often when Italian auteurs comes up, even though he was friends and colleagues with many of them. (A remarkable scene in which the filming of the famous fountain scene in La Dolce Vita is recreated features the real Federico Fellini and Marcello Mastroianni.)
The film follows a group of three friends who have drifted apart after the Second World War in which they fought for the liberation of Italy from the Nazis. Gianni (Vittorio Gassman) marries the daughter of a former fascist who has managed to hold onto his wealth even after the war. Antonio (Nino Manfredi) is a hospital worker who constantly alienates people around him with his fervent communist beliefs, keeping from advancing far in his life economically. Nicola (Satta Flores) is a hapless intellectual who struggles to live in a real world that does not share his solipsism.
One of the few links that tie their ever tenuous friendship together is Luciana (Stefania Sandrelli), whom both Antonio and Gianni fall hard for. It is this complicated relationship that gives this film a Jules and Jim vibe. There is a scene early in the movie in which Luciana and Antonio have just finished seeing a rather long play that Antonio, as a self-admitted philistine, cannot see as more than just a long bore. As they exit the play, Luciana commences to explain what an aside in theater is. It’s a quietly brilliant comic scene as Antonio is too thick to at first comprehend that an aside means that only the audience can hear the speaker’s thoughts and no one else. Then, as Luciana freezes to let Antonio try his own aside, It quickly turns into a flirtation as Antonio reveals his infatuation with her.
In an otherwise sad and poignant movie, these scenes stand out as if to remind us of the joy of fantasy. There are many other theatrical moments such as when Gianni lays eyes on Luciana for the first time. The camera focuses on him with a spotlight and the other characters freeze in the darkness, giving Gianni his own aside in which he admits how he basically fell in love with Luciana at first sight. Cinephilia is rampant throughout this movie, referencing everything from The Wizard of Oz to Battleship Potemkin. It is the way that Nicola communicates, as many other cinephiles do, through references to others' artistic works. Though not all such moments are limited to Luciana, her main charm is that she brings out the more flamboyant and joyous side in these two men and acts as sort of an ideal that both Antonio and Gianni pursue. It is definitely a cliched and sexist role, but Sandrelli plays her with such charm and knowing wit that she makes her role much more than a cliche.
I think Scola and famous comic screenwriters Age & Scarpelli reveal a lot about these men in their attitudes towards women. Gianni’s wife Elide (Giovanna Ralli) is not nearly as educated (or pretentious) as Gianni is, who (we must remember) went against his own liberal ideals when he married into his family. Elide clearly loves and worships Gianni even as she thinks that she is not good enough for him. She even tries to read books and educate herself in an attempt to seem more worthy in his eyes, even though we know that Gianni is too narcissistic to even really acknowledge this attempt. She is a figure of real pathos, and credit should be given to Scola et. al for knowing to not turn her into a caricature of a nouveau riche.
In fact, these three men are not particularly likable in general. Nicola, for example, is also too concerned with trying to become a respected voice in the intellectual world while he totally disregards his wife and son. The scene where he goes onto a popular game show and, miraculously, is quizzed solely on Italian cinema is funny yet frustrating as Antonio comes tantalizingly close to winning. Even though it is revealed later in the film that he was actually right for a question he got wrong, his stubborn and condescending attitude does not help matters. Antonio is too stubborn to ever compromise, and he ends up in a position where he can effect no real change. Gianni, of course, is miserable in his marriage to his wife and his wife’s family, although much of that misery is self-inflicted and detrimental to the people who care about him.
The movie may sound depressing, but it is still funny and observant. While the men are not likable, they are all entertaining in their own ways. The women characters do play the stereotypical roles as the grounding forces for these men but Sandrelli and Ralli are quite sympathetic. The movie is also incredibly verbose, and it is not so much about the content of their speech as it is the rhythm and the intent behind it. Often the way these friends interact is by yelling their ideas at each other. Their relationship becomes a microcosm for the turmoil that afflicted post World War II Italy, where competing ideologies sought to dominate the public conversation, and it seemed like ideologies like communism and socialism had a real fighting chance, though this movie makes it clear that consumerism would become the new unifying force as Italy sought to rebuilt itself. We All Loved Each Other So Much is a modest movie in its focus and style. Its real charm lies in its dense, yet tightly written script, and how Scola et al. were able to convey so much in a seemingly simple story about friendship.