The Way We Laughed ★★★½

One member of the jury that awarded this film Venice’s Golden Lion disparagingly described it as “industrialized sentimentality,” and while I can’t wholly disagree with that assessment, I still think there’s plenty to admire about this largely forgotten drama from Amelio. Even if, twenty years on, it’s more than obvious that New Rose Hotel deserved that festival’s top prize, and even if this effort represents a slight step down from Lamerica or The Stolen Children, it remains a credible attempt to at once return to and modernize the virtues of Italian neorealist cinema.

Set over a half-dozen years, mostly in mid-century Turin, the film showcases a tremendous amount of period detail and social strife that is decidedly subservient to its central tale of two brothers’ alienation. Amelio characterizes these young men as products of their newly urban environment, yet at the same time insists that their Sicilian roots run deeper. He tells their story in an episodic manner, often leaving audiences to play catch-up with their changed situation. This seems at odds with the film’s political aims at times, yet oddly places us in closer emotional proximity to two brothers who fundamentally don’t understand one another yet could not be more sure of the love that they share. This gambit strikes me as the opposite of cloying sentimentality, because it never assumes that we sympathize with these characters… which isn’t to say that the film doesn’t have its mawkish moments (there are missed connections on train platforms and repeated images of a desperate, illiterate man wandering around town carrying books, for example). All in all, a better, more affecting film that I expected given its nearly non-existent positive reputation…