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‘The Story of Boys and Girls’ (NR)

By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
October 11, 1991

Italian filmmaker Pupi Avati's "The Story of Boys and Girls" has the warmth and sprawling rambunctiousness of a big family get- together. The story -- which takes place in the Tuscan hills in 1936 -- is filled with crisscrossing plot lines and intricate intrigues between characters. The film's setting, for the most part, is a grand but slightly unkempt country estate outside of Rome, a mansion of many rooms, all of them filled with chatter and bustle. The talk is nonstop, with everyone gabbing at once, and before we're allowed to settle in with one character or one storyline, someone else edges into the frame, demanding that attention be paid to his needs, his particular drama.

Avati creates an enthralling, disorienting tension in these early scenes. The energy is nervous, manic, which is as it should be since the film's centering event is a sumptuous banquet in which a young woman's eccentric, working-class clan is introduced to her fiance's prim and cultured family of women. The impression, though, is that what we're seeing here is business as usual, and in stark contrast to the poised, aristocratic quiet of their guests' Bolognese apartment. In her own modest fashion, Silvia (Lucrezia Lante Della Rovere), the bride-to-be, is the most anxious. Angelo (Davide Bernardi) is marrying against the advice of his upper-crust elders who feel that Silvia, who steps up in class with the marriage, is beneath him. Given the contrast in family personalities the potential for disaster is immense.

What happens is something very close to disaster, and, at the same time, miraculous. As the preparations for the meal progress, the messy emotionalism at the country house edges toward critical mass. While the local priest oversees the business of baking the bread, skinning the rabbits and braiding the pasta, the characters gossip, bicker and reveal themselves. One of Silvia's father's old lovers resurfaces, casting a threatening shadow over the day's events. Then, to make matters worse, an old friend, an eyeglass salesman with only a short time to live, arrives unexpectedly with his young French mistress on his arm.

Avati's style here is broad and fluid, and it allows him to pack a multitude of small stories within his larger one. Only a few are fully resolved; most are precisely observed vignettes. Avati's tableau is large; he's striving, it seems, to put the entire class structure of Italy on display in this single, pregnant event. Not all the characters are equally well-defined; we never quite get over our initial trouble of figuring out who's who, and what their true relationships are.

Yet there's a lusty ambition, a desire to cram in a lot of life, behind what he's attempted here -- the movie itself is a feast. Avati's supple approach allows for both the raucous and the sublime. The scene in which the young lovers kiss while being showered by the children from above with paper stars is a moment of pristine richness. And there are scenes of rapturous, almost mystical beauty, such as when many of the children, who've confessed to their priest that they often hear the beating of angel's wings above them, gallop down a hillside elated by the presence of the hovering spirits.

Avati has been making movies since the late '60s, many of them for Italian television, but is virtually unknown in this country; "The Story of Boys and Girls" should change that. The picture isn't a major event; its satisfactions are delicate, perishable. Yet the movie has a singing fullness. It fills you up.

Copyright The Washington Post

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