Daniele Luchetti’s “Those Happy Years” is another flashback to the roiling Italian 1970s of his youth, though this time the family conflicts are more vulnerable to the vagaries of art than of political ideology. This enjoyable seriocomedy may not travel as far as his slightly more substantial 2007 drama, “My Brother is an Only Child,” but it showcases the director/co-writer’s usual mix of warmth, drama and boisterousness to pleasing effect. Further fest exposure and select offshore theatrical/home format sales beckon.
Narrated by the helmer’s child stand-in, Dario, as a reminiscing adult (voiced by Luchetti himself), the film has lanky Kim Rossi Stuart as Guido, a Roman sculptor and art teacher trying to get his creative reputation off the ground. He struggles to support his two young sons, Dario (Samuel Garofalo) and Paolo (Niccolo Calvagna), and his wife, Serena (Micaela Ramazzotti). Serena was raised under comparatively wealthy, stable circumstances but doesn’t care about money, or even art (which she professes generally not to understand). Instead, she’s devoted her loyalty entirely to Guido and the kids, though she’s impatient with her husband’s tortured-artist preoccupations and frequently suspicious that he’s cheating on her with all the nude young female models forever hanging around his studio.
When Guido’s contribution to an important Milan group show is trashed by a leading critic, he withdraws further into himself, and needy Serena is at a loss as to how to regain his attention. Figuring that making herself unavailable for a while might do the trick, she accepts an offer from his gallery owner friend Helke (Martina Gedeck) to take the kids on a sojourn to a feminist retreat on a beach in France. Despite initial skittishness — far from desiring “liberation” from her husband, Serena would like them to be joined at the hip — she and the boys end up thoroughly enjoying themselves. More surprisingly, Serena finds herself welcoming romantic overtures from Heike that had completely flown over her head until now.
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Needless to say, the discovery of his wife’s serious emotional/sexual attachment to another woman isn’t taken well by Guido, never mind that he has, indeed, been fooling around with those naked college students all along. Deeply in love but unable to accept their separate evolution as individuals, husband and wife will illustrate the joys and pitfalls of the sexual revolution for their precocious, adaptable offspring. Luchetti’s penchant for broad strokes doesn’t necessarily evoke an era of complicated social change with great nuance, but his affection for his characters and their foibles lends “Those Happy Years” a generosity of spirit even when it risks superficiality and contrivance.
Performances are appealing, although the kids are overly wised-up in cutesy movie fashion. Pro production package could have used a more distinctive visual style, despite efforts at heightening period ambience not only though 35mm lensing but also use of retro 16mm and Super 8 formats.