Michele Placido’s “Il grande sogno,” a semi-autobiographical ’68 student-protest movie with Riccardo Scamarcio in the Louis Garrel role, lacks the strong stamp of either Bertolucci or Garrel pere. Instead, it turns the idealistic youngers’ call for radical change into a safely middlebrow, intermittently involving meller that impresses most in the sections furthest from Placido’s own experience. Less accomplished than “Crime Novel,” his previous take on recent Italo history, this pricey historical re-creation with a sexy young cast should nonetheless do OK biz locally and raise a few placards in other Euro territories.
Whereas Philippe Garrel’s “Regular Lovers” bowed to the French New Wave and derived its power from its intent gaze, and Bertolucci’s “The Dreamers” carefully undermined its perfume-ad aesthetics with a subversive streak, “Il grande sogno” lacks any bigger idea beyond telling the story of a love triangle of sorts against the backdrop of the student-led 1968 occupation of the U. of Rome. Though well-respected as a thesp, Placido’s directorial efforts (“Wherever You Are,” “A Journey Called Love”) have always had an unhealthy dependence on the quality of the writing.
Local heartthrob Scamarcio (“Eden Is West”) — like Placido, from the southern province of Apulia — stars as Nicola, a young cop who, because he is also an aspiring actor, is asked to infiltrate the student meetings at the occupied university.
Something of a ladies man with a pad in a hotel-cum-brothel, Nicola is egged on by his colleagues to hit on Laura (Jasmine Trinca), a bespectacled gal from a traditional Catholic family who is slowly coming into her own as one of the student leaders.
Her male equivalent (though far from Catholic) is the aptly named Libero (literally “Free,” played by Luca Argentero). The handsome northerner asks Laura out for a pizza but he also has a g.f., which leads her directly into Nicola’s arms, despite the fact she has a family-sanctioned fiance herself.
Placido, who co-authored the screenplay, spends a lot of time with Nicola, who is inspired by his own time as a youthful cop and his decision to abandon the police force in the late ’60s, when he found himself sympathizing with the students. Crucially, he was also offered a life-changing chance to study at the Roman Drama Academy.
But Scamarcio’s portrayal of the theater addict who seems clueless about politics –a conceit that rings false in a country where everything is politicized — remains largely lifeless. The thesp may have Louis Garrel’s eyes and brooding sensuality, but he doesn’t have his acting chops.
Much more interesting (and less often explored onscreen) are the dynamics in Laura’s bourgeois Catholic family, on the brink of disintegration when the tumultuous period washes over them. The pic’s portrayal of a religious family trying to navigate radical sociopolitical change while trying to remain a coherent unit is surprisingly sensitive and refrains from simply vilifying the Church or the parents’ attitudes.
The moving, melodramatic finale derives much of its power from the carefully laid groundwork for this part of the narrative. Trinca (“The Best of Youth”) brings the necessary groundedness to Laura, while Marco Iermano, who plays one of her younger brothers, proves he’s more than just a pretty face in a tricky part. Argentero makes the most of an underwritten role.
Pic’s hefty $14.5 million budget is most evident in the large crowd scenes, though they provide little narrative value. As in “Crime Novel,” Placido splices in archival footage to suggest the wider historical context, and unnecessarily adds some verite-inspired, grainy handheld lensing (some of it in black-and-white), which only throws into relief how well-lit and impeccably designed the rest of the film is. Nicola Piovani’s score is serviceable.
Title translates as “The Big Dream.”