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‘Everybody’s Fine’

By Joe Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
June 28, 1991


Giuseppe Tornatore
Marcello Mastroianni;
Michele Morgan
Not rated

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Following the international success of "Cinema Paradiso" (an Oscar, Golden Globe and Cannes Special Jury Prize), Italian director Giuseppe Tornatore comes back with "Everybody's Fine," another bittersweet charmer.

As lyrical as "Cinema Paradiso," and also concerned with aging, memory and irrevocable change, it's a delicate, moving film (quite literally moving -- it was filmed at 75 urban and rural Italian locations, which is reason enough for seeing it). And in addition to an abundance of laughter, tears and memorable images, it leaves the viewer haunted by questions: Why must our families shatter and scatter? How is it possible, when city dwellers live so closely together, with so much to busy them, for people to die of loneliness?

The scent of lemon trees wafting from the country tells peppy grandpa Matteo Scuro that Sicilian summer is near. Matteo's fondest wish is to have his brood around his dinner table again, like in the old days, and he tells his unseen wife about a surprise he has planned for their five children -- he has rented five seaside bungalows for a family vacation.

But the now-grown children (he named them for opera characters) are involved in their own lives and can't spare the time to return to Sicily. So Matteo (adorably played by white-haired Marcello Mastroianni in thick glasses that make his eyes look huge as a cartoon mouse's) decides to visit them. By surprise. Bidding his wife farewell, provincial Matteo leaves Sicily for the first time, on a trip that takes him to Naples, Rome, Florence, Milan, Turin . . . .

Quietly stunning images evoke the beauty and chaos and alienation of modern Italy -- of any modern city. With wonder and sadness Matteo watches city workers sweep up the corpses of hundreds of birds who have dashed themselves in apparent confusion to the pavement; traffic is brought to a standstill and a host of commuters silently witness an elk standing defiantly in the freeway; elderly pensioners waltz around an eerie twilight ballroom. In a moviemaking marvel of technique and control, large crowds of urban extras freeze in place whenever Matteo calls his son Alvaro, only to reach his answering machine.

The story of Matteo's quest is simply told, but within it Tornatore creates an affecting vision of societal change and a web of complex emotions and connections among his characters. Matteo brought his kids up to "be somebody"; now, to protect him and avoid disappointing his high hopes, they play "happy family" for him, fooling him about what their lives have come to. You'll want to phone home as soon as Tornatore's autumnal adagio ends.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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