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  • Ravi Swami

"C'eravamo Tanto Amati", Dir: Ettore Scola, 1974

Updated: May 20, 2022

Having discovered the Italian actress Stefania Sandrelli over my lockdown viewing I was curious to seek out other films she has starred in since her debut film, Pietro Germi's remarkable 1961 "Divorce Italian Style" in which she was paired with Marcello Mastroianni, who, incidentally, appears in "C'eravamo Tanto Amati" (Eng: "We All Loved Each Other So Much") in cameo during a reconstruction of the iconic Trevi Fountain scene from Fellini's "La Dolce Vita".

Far from being a singular homage to the zenith of Italian post-war cinema, the sequence is a key to the several nods to classic Italian cinema that run through the film with the point being made that the cinema of the post-war period played a significant role in Italy's view of itself during a period of reconstruction and of how it wished to be seen by the rest of the world following the years under Fascism.

The film uses all the devices familiar to followers of neo-realist cinema such as breaking the third wall, theatrical lighting conventions and creative use of editing to tell a story of the friendship forged between three men who are fighting to liberate Italy from Fascism at the end of WWII and their subsequent lives and loves spanning 3 decades during a period of relative stability and to the present day of the mid 1970's.

The film opens with a scene set in the present as a small car pulls up outside a large country estate and three people get out, two men and a woman, and approach the gate of the property. One of the men appears to have a drivers license that he has used to identify the name and address of the resident of the property.

They peer over a low wall to see a man (Vittorio Gassman) in a dressing gown climb a ladder to a diving board before leaping off. At this point the film freezes as the man is poised mid-leap before cutting to one of the men watching him, who addresses the camera to the effect that this montage is both the start and end of the film you are about to watch.

This device runs through the film as each of the three men preface each episode of their lives from the end of WWII as resistance fighters to the present, and how their lives became intertwined with that of the woman (Stefania Sandrelli).

The three men's lives diverge at the end of the war and the plot details how their ideals are gradually eroded by life, and their love for the same woman, "Luciana" (Sandrelli) - "Antonio" (Nino Manfredi) becomes a hospital orderly who is immediately struck by Luciana, a patient and fellow freedom fighter, "Nicola" (Stefano Satta Flores) is an intellectual and the most idealistic of the three and who has a passion for cinema, and "Gianni" (Vittorio Gassman) becomes a trainee in a law firm.

The film shifts to an afternoon many years after the end of the war and the three friends who were previously bonded by their youthful idealism have drifted apart and lost contact with each other.

A series of vignettes reveal their lives through the 50's and into the 60's, Nicola, now married and with a young child, rows with his employer over the meaning of Vittorio De Sica's "Bicycle Thieves" after a screening of the film and subsequently loses his job, leaves his wife and child and sets off the pursue his goal of being a respected film critic in Rome.

Antonio and Luciana are in a relationship and are spending an evening in a restaurant when Gianni, now an up-and-coming lawyer, re-enters their lives and turns their lives upside down as both he and Luciana are instantly smitten by each other.

Antonio has to decide between his friendship and bond with Gianni and his love for Luciana and he chooses to step aside, and the two lovers embark on a passionate but tumultuous relationship as Antonio is left to mull over his decision.

Nicola, the aspiring film critic, re-enters the lives of the three friends and we discover that he has had little success in pursuing his career and is living in near poverty and when Gianni dumps Luciana, he takes her in and falls in love with her, while Luciana for her part regrets her affair with Gianni and still loves Antonio.

Devastated by the end of her affair with Gianni, Luciana takes an overdose and ends up in hospital where Antonio nurses her back to health and when Gianni visits her after hearing the news, he realises that she is still in love with Antonio.

Luciana wants to be an actress but is not ready to resume her relationship with Antonio, who is later reunited with her when an ambulance he is riding in is stopped at a road block because of a film crew that is shooting the famous "Trevi Fountain" scene from Fellini's "la Dolce Vita". He spots Luciana talking to Marcello Mastroianni (appearing as himself) before she is introduced as a rising star to Federico Fellini (also appearing as himself) - a scene that refers to "Divorce Italian Style" in the sense that the film featured breakout roles for both Mastroianni and Sandrelli.

Luciana and Antonio discuss their past relationship before a smooth looking man turns up whom Luciana introduces as her agent, but Antonio thinks he is her lover and and attacks him out of jealousy.

Meanwhile, Gianni, now a successful lawyer, is working for a wealthy building contractor to protect his business interests while also being aware that he is involved in corruption, however he has no scruples about compromising his ideals for money. When he sees the man's daughter "Elide" (Giovanna Ralli) he falls in love but in reality he sees it as a smart career move and the two become engaged with the promise of inheriting his father in laws' estate after he blackmails him by threatening to reveal his dodgy business dealings.

Later, married with two children, Gianni joins his new family to watch TV and sees his old friend Nicola appearing on a game show answering questions on cinema. This causes him to reflect on the gluttony and lack of social niceties of his "nouveau riche" in-laws who chow down on meat like pigs at a trough and who have no interest in the questions being asked in the game show.

Nicola wins the jackpot and success seems to finally be within his reach but he is tempted to try again for a bigger win and promptly loses it all.

Gianni' married life is loveless and in a bedroom scene, his wife Elide is reading a book on sexuality and asks him about orgasms but he appears disinterested. As the marriage begins to disintegrate Elide records herself on tape pondering about the afterlife in a scene that seems to reference Fellini's "Juliette of the Spirits", and when she confronts Gianni about his true feelings for her she gets a vague reply. She drives off with Gianni in pursuit and then the film cuts abruptly to a scene in a breakers yard for cars where Gianni imagines seeing the ghost of Elide, who has killed herself in her car, talking to him, which again reinforces the reference to the Fellini film.

At the start of the 70's the three friends meet up for a reunion dinner in a restaurant and their respective lives could not be more different, Nicola is still a failure, Antonio still resents Gianni for stealing Luciana from him and Gianni has inherited his father-in-law's estate but he keeps this fact to himself, and their disappointments come to a head during a drunken brawl afterwards.

Antonio invites Gianni to accompany him and Nicola to a protest meeting for fair wages outside the hospital where he works and it is here that Gianni sees Luciana for the first time in many years and realises that he loved and lost her. However when he questions her she says that it was never reciprocated from her side and was more a case of lust, and when Antonio announces that they are married, he leaves the protest.

Antonio and Nicola are driving through the city when they spot cars parked in rows such that anyone wanting to drive out would be blocked from doing so - an insight into the traffic congestion problems of Rome in the 70's. They spot Gianni with his sleeves rolled up helping drivers access their cars when in reality he is trying extricate his own car, and they pull up to say hello.

Believing that Gianni has been reduced to working as a car park attendant and is, like them,

on his uppers, they give him some money, unaware that the reality is very different. Gianni takes the money without a word.

At this point the film rolls back to the scene at the beginning as Antonio, Luciana and Nicola pull up at a country estate after finding Gianni's drivers licence. As they watch him they realise that he has traded his ideals for a comfortable life, in stark contrast to his friends who remained true to them, but at the same time realising that their ideals would never guarantee stability or success, however they feel no envy, only perhaps disgust.

The story could be that of any three people embarking on life and of how things never turn out as planned or hoped, counterpointed by the idealism and social conscience that underpinned the neo-realist cinema of the post-war period that aimed to encapsulate hopes for future. In many ways the films of Fellini arguably captured the dichotomies and contradictions of post-war Italy more successfully than his contemporaries while still retaining the qualities of Commedia Al'Italiana, hence the repeated references to his films seen in ""C'eravamo Tanto Amati" and for the director, Ettore Scola, it might have a been a way to reconcile the aims of the directors of an earlier generation with the realities of the world 3 decades later.

There is a definite sense of deja vu in this film due to the filmic references that suggests that cinema reaches into people's lives and offers a frame of reference for common experience.

"C'eravamo Tanto Amati", Dir: Ettore Scola, 1974



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