Tu Ridi
review by Gregory Avery, 30 May 2003

The first of the two Luigi Pirandello stories that Paolo and Vittorio Taviani have adapted into the film Tu Ridi begins with a man laughing in his sleep. In their neo-modernist apartment in Rome, the man's pretty, Russian-born wife wakes him up to ask what is going on. The man replies that he has no idea (his wife suspects otherwise), doesn't know what could be causing it, and, moreso, doesn't know what in his life at that moment should make him act so uproarious.

Doctor's order have forced the man, Felice (Antonio Albanese), to give up a singing career as a baritone -- he now works as an accountant for the same opera company he once sang for. Sitting at the desk opposite his is Tobis (Giuseppe Cederna), a still-young man who must walk with the aid of a cane, and who is subjected to the same, petty, casually cruel ritual every morning while walking to work. Three men come up behind him, one swipes his cane out from under him (causing Tobis to fall), tosses it to the second man, who then passes it to the third -- who, rather than break or do something else with it, gives it back to Tobis. The experience is doubly frustrating because the third man is also the man who runs the opera company.

Felice eventually goes to see a doctor about his nocturnal laughing, and the doctor turns out to have also studied psychology. He urges Felice to try and remember what it is he may be dreaming at the time when he starts laughing in his sleep. Felice does, but what he finds out mortifies him: what he is laughing at in his sleep is the infirmity of Tobis, someone whom Felice considers to be a friend.

The Tavianis have set this story in what looks to be the second half of the 1950s, and from our vantage point, we can judge what Felice is experiencing a little more clearly. Dreams are often not a literal expression of anything -- in fact, they may be cathartic, so that Felice's laughter is actually an expression of the rage and helplessness that he is experiencing over the way Tobis is being treated. Also, all of us, at one point of another, have experienced a moment in our own lives when we have felt or expressed something that, morally or logically, we consider to be inappropriate. That doesn't make us a bad person -- it's part of life, and the important thing is how we decide to respond to those feelings. Felice -- who is played wonderfully by Albanese, with the expressive face of the common men who turned up in Fellini's early films -- reacts profoundly to this turn of events, and goes to great lengths to make up for it in a way which he feels is right. The story doesn't feel like its burdened with conscience, though -- the Tavianis have directed it with a light, brisk, concise touch, without playing short the meanings that lie within the drama. The story ends up leaving Rome altogether and ends up going to the country (which, like the rest of the film, is beautifully photographed by the cinematographer Giuseppe Lanci) and to the coast, where Felice meets a young woman (Sabrina Ferilli) whom he made a great impression on when he was still performing as a singer, and who is now traveling with a touring theatre company. In a rural trattoria, she even goads Felice into reliving some of his past glory by singing a bit of Puccini to the crowd. The story offers a tantalizing what-if: should he, a balding, middle-aged man, run off with this girl, or follow through with what he had initially set out to do when he unexpectedly met her? The story can be seen as being about a man who puts his own concerns for another person above his own, or about someone who makes a great sacrifice in order to do something that he sees as morally right and a point of honor. Whichever, at the end of the story we respect Felice's decision to do what he feels he must do, even if we don't entirely agree with it. He has earned our respect, and we respect his choice in turn.

The film's second story takes us into totally different territory altogether. At the close of the 19th century, a doctor (Turi Ferro) is abducted and taken by three partially-disguised men into the mountains to be held for ransom. Their captive, though, is a country doctor who has no trouble recognizing that the three men are brothers whom he's had a chance to treat for something at one time or another. Moreover, the doctor's family can't, or won't, pay any ransom demand, because they either don't have the money or don't want to part with it. The brothers' father decides that they can't afford to let him go, either, so the doctor must stay with them for an indefinite period of time, during which he ends up becoming more acquainted with the brothers -- he speaks to them of the stars, and Galileo -- and even with their wives and children, having what may arguably be a more enriching existence with them than with his more foreboding circle of family and friends.

The Tavianis have framed this story with a modern-day one which starts off showing a man (Lello Arena) whisking a young boy from a sparsely-furnished apartment to an inn and restaurant in the country which is closed down during the off-season (and which is not far from where the story with the doctor took place). It looks as if we're initially watching some sort of child custody drama -- the boy and the man get along as if they were father and son, forcibly separated by a court decree -- but what we're actually watching is a kidnapping, as well, though motivated by far different reasons (the modern-day story is supposed to be based on an actual kidnapping, and its outcome, that occurred recently in Italy), and it ends on a far darker note. Dark enough, in fact, to challenge us to question why these two stories have been grouped together under the title Tu Ridi (You Laugh). Both the stories have some comical elements to them. More likely is the fact that, in both, we see how the main characters respond when faced with adversity -- how they respectively "laugh," in their own ways, at it. The realization may not hit you until well after you've seen the picture, and may even have flummoxed audiences so that, without any obvious explanation at the end, the film may not have been as successful as the Tavianis' previous films Padre Padrone and The Night of the Shooting Stars. I don't think that makes Tu Ridi a less better film than the others, though. By being challenging, a film can sometimes become a more enriching, and invigorating, experience.

Tu Ridi has just been released for the first time in the U.S. on home video, on the Accent Cinema label through Facets Video. The Tavianis have just started filming their first feature since Tu Ridi, Luisa San Felice, based on a novel by Alexandre Dumas père, and starring Laetitia Casta.

Written and
Directed by:

Paolo Taviani
Vittorio Taviani

Antonio Albanese
Elena Ghiaurov
Giuseppe Cederna
Sabrina Ferilli
Turi Ferro
Steve Spedicato 
Lello Arena

NR - Not Rated.
This film has not
been rated.







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