Daniele Luchetti’s look at Those Happy Years
by Camillo de Marco
- The Roman director’s film hitting 250 movie theatres today, distributed by 01, tells the story of his family from the 1970s: an artistic avant-garde father and a mother looking for liberation
In the summer of 1974, the year in which Nixon resigned following the Watergate scandal, Italy had just held a referendum over divorce, and an economic crisis was brewing. In Rome, an artistic movement from the 1960s still congregated in one of the bars on the Piazza del Popolo: with names including Franco Angeli, Tano Festa, Mario Schifano. Avant-garde artists, as well as experimental and pop art ones.
Daniele Luchetti (My Brother Is an Only Child [+see also:
interview: Daniele Luchetti
interview: Riccardo Tozzi
film profile], Our Life [+see also:
film profile]) has just set his new film Those Happy Years [+see also:
film profile] in 1974. At the time, he was 13 and his father was an Academy teacher with the vain ambition to be an avant-garde artist.
Starting from the desire to tell the story of his own family, the director managed to compose a true ode to art, including its cinema manifestation, the difficulties of making it, the lack of understanding and frustrations that those who frequent it undergo.
Guido (mostly Kim Rossi Stuart) throws himself in a personal battle against social conformism and art institutions, naively running through the uncomfortable territory of provocation and scandal.
His idols are Piero Manzoni, whose most famous performance was to leave his thumb’s fingerprint on boiled eggs, which were distributed to the public and eaten on the spot, and Vito Acconci, who bit into his own skin and then made a graphic print out of his teeth marks. Those were years when taking political stances was required and being a conventional artist was a sin.
Guido is married to a mild-mannered but jealous Serena (MIcaela Ramazzotti). He perfectly represents the disappearing father figure Jaques Lacan referred to at the end of the 1960s. His interest in family is limited. Rather, he teaches his sons Dario and Paolo all of his love for art, using a Virgin Mary depiction and a Mondrian to teach them the beauty of abstract art versus figurative art. A German art gallery friend Helke (Martina Gedeck) organises a performance for him in Milan where his naked body is painted by four naked models, inviting spectators to undress. “Bourgeoisie is not art,” he screams. Nobody moves. His wife stands up and undresses before him, something he does not appreciate.
Upon request, Rossi Zoldan, a critic, refuses to give a comment before writing his article, he says. He then goes on to demolish him. This artist wants to be bad, uncomfortable, disturbing and scandalous, he writes, but all he manages to be is banal and naïve.
Serena comes from a middleclass family of shopkeepers, but these are liberation years: Helke convinces her to go on holiday with her to the south of France, bringing her children with her. She is not sure her husband would approve. The German retorts that “freedom should be taken, not asked for.” In France, she makes friends with feminists, and friendship becomes sex. Serena becomes aware of herself. Perhaps she is ready for a life without traditional ties.
Dario (Samuel Garofalo) meets a French girl at the beach. Dario / Luchetti tells us through voice-over that those were pervasive moments of “erotic dust.” He and his mother “lost our innocence, or to put it better, we had gained it.”
The return home is not an easy one. Husband and wife own up to their infidelities, in front of the children. Later, a hurtful separation and a divorce. He will create a work of art inspired by his wife’s absence. Dario’s voice tells us that ties can be hurtful, because everybody holds the other close and won’t let them be free.
The film’s third pillar is Dario. He tells the story and lives through a turbulent adolescence. He is the innocent eye looking at his parents, containing and absorbing their vitality. We see the boy start wanting to capture moving images with his Super 8 camera. Dario manages to sell his short holiday film for a television ad. A director was born, and that was me, Luchetti seems to be telling us with little modesty. This is one of the highly recognisable elements of the Rulli-Petraglia screenwriting brand, which this generational film is full of.
The period details are faultless. From the Citroen 2CV Dyane to the Super 8 Canon Zoom 514 camera and the Castelli folding chairs. Above all, what is fascinating is watching an artist at work, in the middle of his creative process, regardless of whether or not he will end up being successful or remain an amateur.
(Translated from French)