Two lifelong friends, Antonio (Nino Manfredi) and Nicola (Stefano Satta Flores) are joined by another, Luciana (Stefania Sandrelli), to visit someone they have not seen in some time, Gianni (Vittorio Gassman), in their ramshackle car, but on arriving at his home, they peer over the wall to see that he is about to take a dive into his garden swimming pool. He freezes in mid-air so that Antonio can tell us about their history, which goes back thirty years, so far it is in black and white when they met during the Second World War years, blowing up fascist convoys as part of the partisan movement. But times change, and on meeting Luciana their priorities begin to change too.
Director Ettore Scola was one of the most beloved Italian film directors in his native land, yet never managed to achieve the recognition internationally that, say, a Federico Fellini or Michelangelo Antonioni did. He had a number of works that made waves on the arthouse scene, however, and back in the nineteen-seventies We All Loved Each Other So Much (the somewhat clumsy English language title for the original's snappier C'eravamo tanto amati) was his biggest hit. It was a nostalgic look back at the cinema of Italy, something Scola knew a lot about, and how it tied in with the political turmoil of the post-Mussolini years, but maybe not as rose-tinted as that sounds.
The intertwined stories of the three main males and the love of their lives, the difficult to get hold of Luciana (in more ways than one) played out in the first half in monochrome, as if harking back to the neo-realist school of Italian film, yet it was more self-aware than that, throwing in post-modernist tricks to add a certain meta quality, a self-awareness that offered the gloss of wisdom after the fact. This hindsight became the whole point of the project, as we realise, just as the characters do, that their dedication to either politics or cinema has been no substitute for having love in their lives, be that the friendship which should mean more than both those aspects, or romantic attachments.
They do no stay in touch for the whole two hours, and frankly the fact that it took so long to tell this tale left the film open to accusations of being longwinded when a little more succinctness would not have gone amiss. On the other hand, if you enjoy the company of these men, you will doubtless be more tolerant of their impassioned ways, no matter how wrongheaded their obsessions may have been. Nicola was the film buff who could tell you every little detail of his favourite Italian movies, yet this proves his undoing when he appears on a quiz show and is so wrapped up in showing off how much he knows that he is accused of giving the wrong answer, which loses him a fortune in cash prizes. This serves as a metaphor for the flaws in the male psyche, that sort of thing.
In Scola's world, films are inseparable from real life, but he does not necessarily mistake one for the other. When Antonio meets Luciana as she is an extra in the famous fountain sequence of Fellini's La Dolce Vita (this features Fellini and star Marcello Mastroianni appearing as themselves!), it sums up that love affair the country has with the silver screen, but also how problematic and controversial a national identity can be when it does not tally with everyone's view. That brings us back to the World War Two hangover, which hangs over Italy like a heavy burden of having made the wrong choice utterly drastically, yet one which directs the politics of everyone in that society, all of which is brought out in the central trio: they cannot agree on the correct way of thinking, the way forward. By the end, we realise that it doesn't matter which way they think, life will go on regardless of them, and they should have aimed for personal happiness first. It was a poignant conclusion, but the frequently wacky, sentimental presentation didn't always suit it. Music by Armando Trovajoli.