As a title, "We All Loved Each Other So Much" sounds illiterate, indigestible and at least two words longer than absolutely necessary. While one feels reluctant to call it by name, the movie now playing at the Outer Circle 1 under this smothering pillow of a title happens to be exceptionally appetizing and enjoyable.
Perhaps the best solution is to urge friends to come along and sample that new Italian comedy by the same team responsible for "The Pizza Triangle" back in 1971 - director Ettore Scola, collaborating with the prolific screenwriters Agenore Incrocci and Furio Scarpelli, who work under the nom de cinema Age-Scarpelli. "The Pizza Triangle" still seems one of the most distinctive and satisfying European film comedies of recent years, surpassed in my own affections only by Claude Sautet's "Cesar and Rosalie." The fresh creation by Scola-Age-Scarpelli is in the same heady league. Delightfully breezy and uninhibited on the surface, WALEOSM is deepended by social and emotional undercurrents that become more stirring and suggestive as the film goes along and then linger in your memory.
A panoramic social comedy chronicling the post-war fortunes of three comrades who fought side-by-side in the partisan resistance during World War II, "We All" uses 30 years of milestones from Italian political and filmmaking history to help measure the progress - or inertia - of its heroes, played by Vittorio Gassman, Nino Manfredi and Stafano Satta Flores. Naturally, the film references will be far more accessible to audiences here than the political ones. Scola evokes movie associates in a variety of ways, all stylistically adept and witty, not to mention virtually irresistible to people also inclined to measure time by the motion picture calender.
Nicola, the character played by Satta Flores, should get thousands of movie nuts right where they live. A small-town pedagogue animated by a fanatical love for movies, Nicola becomes a slightly ridiculous casualty of his own enthusiasm. His life is haunted by one movie in particular: Vittorio De Sica's "The Bicycle Thief." He loses his job as a teacher after sponsoring the film at a symposium and defending it hotly against the local know-nothings.
Years later Nicola is only moments away from winning a fortune on "Double or Nothing," an Italian TV equivalent of "The $64,000 Question," when he unwittingly but inevitably slips up by demonstrating too much familiarity with "The Bicycle Thief." Together or with earlier collaborators Scola and Age-Scarpelli have written a staggering number of film comedies, and one of the things they have mastered is the art of ringing new changes off earlier jokes and situations. Nicola is eventually discovered attending a lecture by the late Vittorio De Sica, who corroborates the anecdote that cost Nicola fame and fortune. Perhaps it goes without saying, but Scola also dedicated this film to De Sica.
Federico Fellini and Marcello Mastroianni, who played the lead in "The Pizza Triangle," appear briefly as themselves in a sequence set against the shooting of the fountain scene in "La Dolce Vita." More often than not Scola's movie associations are indirect or lyrical. For example, there's an exterior night scene that evokes an atmosphere of early Fellini rather than any film in particular. He achieves a marvelous effect superimposing the romantic conversation imagined by one character onto the figures of Laurence Harvey and Kim Novak in a theater showing "Of Human Bondage."
This ironic, feat of dubbing is at once an inside-joke about the practice of dubbing in the Italian movie industry itself and a transporting sentimental conceit, because it does suggest the way moviews play upon the subconscious and influence romantic susceptibilities. In "Annie Hall" Woody Allen is just getting around to stylistic devices that Scola has been using devices and unself-consciously for quite a while - the characters address the audience directly, for example, or the scene freezes to permit them a moment to articulate reveries and longings they're afraid to speak aloud.
Instead of belaboring these devices Scola tosses them off effortlessly and even makes jokes about them.
The three friends drift apart after becoming entangled in a romantic quadrangle. One of them eventually gets the girl they had been infatuated with an aspiring actress named Luciana played by Stefania Sandrelli. However, it comes as something of a surprise that she even returns to satisfy the dreams of one former suitor. Luciana seems less a tangible love object than a symbol of the youth and opportunities lost by the men as they grow older. One doesn't quite expect to see her reappear in the flesh because she always has the reality of a pipe dream.
There's a more troublesome incongruity in the case of Gianni, the character played by Gassman. Although he's conceived as the sell-out of the trio, a once idealistic lawyer easily sucked into corruption and luxury, it seems wrong for the filmmakers to judge him more harshly than Nicola, who is habitually unlucky, or Nino Manfredi's affable Antonio, who goes to work as a hospital orderly in 1945 and is still a hospital orderly in 1975. These characters will serve as comic symbols of how disillusion caught up with one generation - or can catch up with all generations - as long as their failures seem complementary, equally understandable and forgivable.
One reason Gianni's sell-out doesn't work dramatically is that the film lacks proof of his superiority, mentally or ethically, to the other heroes. The filmmakers themselves begin on too light and mocking a note to persuade us later that one of their Three Stooges might be more culpable than the other two. Moreover, Gianni must sell out to one of their funniest inspirations - the preposterous, porcine Catecini family, ruled by a bloated, exuberantly corrupted old patriarch, Romolo, who happens to be a fabulous character embodied with magnificent gusto by Aldo Fabrizi.
Although movie nuts are likely to recall that Fabrizi was one of the leads in "Open City" - he played the brave priest, Don Pietro Pellegrini - they may not recognize him under the girth and jowls of Romolo Catecini. However, it is impossible not to be overwhelmed and delighted by this shameless old reprobate, a builder who likes to celebrate the completion of his projects by cutting into a whole roast pig, customarily brought in on a flag-covered platter at the end of a construction crane.
Romolo's enticements are augmented by his sweet, broad-beamed daughter Elide, who falls in love with Gianni, at first sight. Since Elide is almost as funny in her adoring lovesick way as Romolo is in his outrageous way, one doesn't really root for Gianni to avoid this trap.
It might have been more amusing if Gianni had begun to resemble the Catecinis instead of evolving into the rather cold, alienated figure we see at the end of the story. Among other kinds of fun, it might have given Vittorio Gassman better acting opportunities. Scola and Age-Scarpelli have worked with Gassman many times before. For instance, Scola was one of the writers on "The Easy Life" and Age-Scarpelli worked on "Big Deal on Madonna Stree." Scola who is 46, made his directing debut in 1964 on "Let's Talk About Women," which starred Gassman in nine different roles and featured Giovanna Ralli.
It's possible that these men have written so many roles for Gass man as a sexual opportunist or deluded Lothario that they didn't think much characterization was required for Gianni. Italians may be able to fill in the empty space much easier, but there certainly is an empty spot where a protagonist was apparently meant to be. It's the only major reservation one takes away from a generally wonderful entertainment.