Former TV director Gabriele Muccino, who debuted promisingly late last year with the youth comedy “That’s It,” makes a rewarding return to similar territory in “But Forever in My Mind.” A considerably more mature second feature that displays a keen ear for teen dialogue and a skilled hand at directing the inexperienced young cast, this jaunt down the bumpy road of adolescence and the problem-strewn path to first love acquires surprising emotional richness in its final act. Back-to-back premiere slots in the Venice and Toronto fests should help fuel a share of foreign interest.
Muccino scripted the bittersweet comedy with help from his younger brother Silvio and Adele Tulli, both 16-year-old high school students and cast members appearing before cameras for the first time. Their input perhaps adds to the genuineness, immediacy and especially the affection evident in the film’s observation of school years, early sexual yearnings and romantic convictions about changing the world, as well as the various dynamics between family members , youth peer groups and friends.
The script’s digs are invariably good-natured, even whenit mocks such youth phenomena as kids’ strictly observed behavioral and dress codes or the pseudo-hippie, middle-class counterculturalists who revere the student protesters of 1968 without grasping their political motivation or really having one of their own. These unfocused rabble-rousers provide the backdrop for the pic’s teen-romance story when a large group of students occupy their high school to protest “the privatization of education and the standardization of the individual.”
Stirred up by the excitement, Silvio (Silvio Muccino) finds himself alone with Valentina (Giulia Carmignani), and despite her steady relationship with classmate Martino (Simone Pagani), he plants a kiss on her. When he relates the episode in strict secrecy to his indiscreet best friend, Ponzi (Giuseppe Sanfelice di Monteforte), it takes only minutes for the entire school to hear, including enraged Martino and Claudia (Giulia Steigerwalt), who secretly loves Silvio.
The script is right on target in its observation of how seemingly minor flirtations can take on life-and-death importance, and the angst Silvio endures as a result of his dalliance assumes amusingly epic proportions.
His confused emotions run riot as he deals with his anger toward Ponzi, his remorse over having betrayed Martino and his anxiety over his chances of further action with Valentina. Adding to the turmoil, Silvio’s parents (Luca De Filippo, Anna Galiena) — themselves former ’60s agitators now comfortably absorbed into the complacent middle-class — begin pressuring him to communicate with them more, while his experienced older brother (Enrico Silvestrin) develops his own romantic woes and his seemingly straitlaced sister (Giulia Ciccone) reveals a secret romantic life.
Muccino whips all this emotional upheaval into an entertaining brew of tender comedy and amusingly viewed but realistic family conflict. And beginning with the riot squad’s arrival to break down the student barricades, the director deftly manipulates the tone to introduce a more melancholy undercurrent. This serves to heighten the warmth and emotional impact of the lovely climactic stretch, which ends on an infectiously joyful note with Silvio’s first taste of real love.
The entire ensemble of inexperienced kids plucked out of school to play the student roles is appealing and unself-conscious, with Sanfelice di Monteforte scoring some particularly amusing moments. In a leading part requiring considerable range, Silvio Muccino is extremely winning, showing a natural flair both for comedy and for the more intense family exchanges, which nonetheless retain plenty of gentle humor. Steigerwalt also is impressive, making Claudia’s efforts to be noticed by Silvio quietly heartbreaking.
Editor Claudio Di Mauro propels events along at a lively pace, d.p. Arnaldo Catinari’s camerawork is similarly agile, and Paolo Buonvino’s eclectic score ranges from Middle Eastern influences to richly romantic strains that enhance the uplifting final scenes.