Cementing his reputation as one of the most important modern Italian filmmakers, writer-director Gianni Amelio's latest drama, The Way We Laughed, deals with the plight of two Sicilian brothers who go north to Turin in search of a better life. Luchino Visconti's 1960 film Rocco and His Brothers followed five siblings in roughly the same situation, and Amelio's film, set in almost the same time frame, can be said to take up where Visconti left off. But Amelio, whose sense of social observation is closer to Pietro Germi than Visconti or the other Italian neorealists, is after something more elusive.
The older brother, Giovanni (played by Amelio favorite Enrico Lo Verso), sacrifices everything for his younger brother, Pietro (Francesco Giuffrida), because Pietro can read. Giovanni is convinced a great future awaits his brother and takes all manner of demeaning jobs to help him get an education. But Pietro is a dreamy wastrel who cuts classes and appears indifferent to his brother's sacrifice.
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Just when you think the story is little more than a male reworking of a female self-sacrifice epic like The Hard Way, Amelio shifts it into another key, suggesting that the brothers are two sides of the same personality coin. Beautifully made and performed, this is a film of considerable insight into both the life of the impoverished and the mystery of human personality.