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‘The Story of Boys and Girls’ (NR)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
October 11, 1991

It may be impossible to keep track of the 30 dinner guests in "The Story of Boys and Girls." But this multi-course Italian comedy is a sumptuous experience that's well worth sitting down for. And for those who cried their way through "Cinema Paradiso," this is the best meal in town.

In the 1930s, a wedding engagement brings two very different families together. The prospective groom's bourgeois family hails from Bologna. The bride-to-be (Lucrezia Lante della Rovere) comes from humbler, Tuscan country stock. Following local custom, the bride's family prepares a 20-course meal for their guests. Their farmhouse is abuzz with activity, as they slave over the best banquet since "Babette's Feast." There's tortellini, calf's liver, beef, chicken, rabbit, duck, capon, pork cutlets, macaroni, starling and quail. That's not counting dessert.

As dinner preparation takes slow, deliberate shape, so do the characters' problems and passions. The bride's mother (Angiola Baggi) is bitter at her husband (Alessandro Haber) for having a mistress. He, in turn, is devastated because his lover has been sleeping around. A maid constantly has to satisfy her husband's ardent desires between kitchen duties. A minor crisis occurs when the aging cottage tenant (Felice Andreasi) arrives for the weekend, a young French mistress in tow. But, as the old man explains to the outraged women, his wife and children are both aware of the situation. What can they be angry about?

The situation intensifies further when the guests arrive. Papa temporarily forgets his mistress to flirt with the bride's mother. A quickie romance springs up between a Bolognese daughter and handsome, happy-go-lucky Baldo (Massio Bonetti). The children swear they can hear the beating of angel's wings when they rush downhill. Sometime during the meal, a gun will be fired with disastrous (but not fatal) consequences.

Director Avati retains the bountiful human qualities of the Italian movie without going overboard. The characters in "Boys and Girls" serve a human symphony of jealousies and ecstacies, resentments and exhilarations. The movie's also about love, age, dreams, passions and peccadillos.

It's elusive -- and perhaps irrelevant -- to encapsulate all that happens. Avati covers his pluralistic territory evenly. Every moment is given equal weight, whether it's food served or weapons fired. "Story" is an extended moment in time, rendered in humanistic, slice-of-life terms. It's unclear whether or not this stomach-gorging coming together will bode well for the betrothed. But it's also clear they face a future as interesting and unpredictable as the married couples around them.

"The Story of Boys and Girls" is in Italian with subtitles.

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