This film is one of the most remarkable and touching movies to come along in decades and deserves to be seen by anyone who appreciates the craft of movie making.
The film, directed by Gianni Amelio, and set in the late 1950s and early 1960s, centers on the relationship between two Sicilian brothers in Turin: the older brother Giovanni (Enrico Lo Verso) and his younger sibling Pietro (Francesco Guiffrida). Pietro is too slick for his own good; he's an operator who has clearly been raised to believe he's smarter than everyone else around him. He lies, cuts class and takes care only of himself. At the beginning of the film, when he ducks out of meeting his brother at the train depot, we learn that Pietro is embarrassed by his older brother, Giovanni, an illiterate laborer who has traveled up from Sicily to be with his brother.
Pietro's motivations are lost entirely on Giovanni, who loves his younger brother unconditionally. Giovanni takes a series of dead end jobs to help support Pietro's schooling, not knowing that his younger brother is the worst student in class, cuts class constantly, and has no regard for the opportunities he's been given. Giovanni is motivated entirely by providing for his younger brother's success, and indeed, he tells all of his co-workers at his various backbreaking jobs about his brother the student, and what a tremendous success he is.
"The Way We Laughed" doesn't deal with time in a straight linear fashion, and it moves ahead by years at a time. By the film's conclusion, Giovanni has become through his hard work a successful landowner with a large spread in the Po River Valley. His brother, Pietro, has had some kind of a breakdown, or maybe has become a drug addict (it's not entirely clear), but nonetheless, Giovanni still takes care of him and seeks to provide for him. In the touching final scenes of the film, Giovanni brings his dazed, mute younger brother to his estate to meet his wife and children.
The themes of "The Way We Laughed" have been around for centuries, but they have seldom been handled with such beauty or evocation. The exultation of the hard working and illiterate, but ultimately good-hearted and honest older brother over the shifty, selfish and, in the end, self-destructive younger brother, could easily have come off as preachy and abrasively conservative; that is decidedly not the case with this film. Indeed, in seeing this film again and thinking about it, the movie reminds me very much of Flannery O'Connor's short story, "Everything That Rises Must Converge," not only in the juxtaposition of its themes, but also in the deftness with which those themes are handled. It's no easy thing to handle the millennia-old prodigal son theme, and still wring something fresh out of it, but that's what Gianni Amelio does with this film.
One other aspect of "The Way We Laughed" that deserves special mention is the cinematography, which is lush and beautiful, and which sets a perfect tone for the various acts of the movie: Turin is dark, wet and foreboding, the Po River Valley is colorful, rich and sunny. etc...
In sum, "The Way We Laughed" is a movie that any cineaste must see and will most certainly enjoy.