director  Valerio Mastandrea
A woman and her ten-year-old son deal, in their own way, with the death of the husband/father, who died at the factory where he worked, while all around them the anticipation and concentration grow as everyone awaits the day of the funeral. The surprising first film directed by Valerio Mastandrea, a spaced-out and original drama, recounted like a comedy, which changes focus and register and toys with naturalism and surrealism. Laughter and emotion, no tricks or facile shortcuts.
Valerio Mastandrea
Born in 1972, Rome. Italian film, stage and television actor. After some occasional participations to stage plays and films, he had his breakout with the role of Tarcisio in the 1995 crime film Palermo - Milan One Way. In 1997 he got his first leading role in the sleeper box office hit We All Fall Down. Best know for his parts in Nine (2009), Pasolini (2014), Perfect Strangers (2016) and The Place (2017). Valerio Mastandrea is a three-time David Di Donatello awards winner for The First Beautiful Thing (2010), Balancing Act (2012) and Long Live Freedom (2013). Laughing is his directional debut.
Certain films are able to deceive the audience for quite a while: they lull them with a monotonous rhythms, create the illusion that it will remain the same till the end. And the more they reassure the audience, the more surprising it is when this false serenity is undermined later. In this sense, “Laughing” may be a record breaker. The illusion of a chamber movie is sustained for approximately three fourths of the screen time. What matters is not only that later on the story makes an unexpected twist. The movie suddenly breaks free, becomes densely symbolic: the waterfall comes down from the ceiling as tears, an empty coffin displayed for the funeral ceremony etc. It reminds one of those exasperating attempts to fall asleep when you’ve thought about almost everything in the world but still lie awake - until suddenly the sleep overpowers you and abolishes all the earthly laws.
Valerio Mastandrea is a debutant director but an experienced filmmaker. As an actor, he has won three “Davids di Donatello” awards. It seems that chamber scenes he uses to pacify the audience with go counter to certain national traditions. Left-wing Italian cinema would never react so nonchalantly to such a “labor-union” plot with a worker dying at a factory (most likely, in the docks on the sea shore). The only indication of any public reaction to this death comes at the end of the movie, when tumultuous workers see the arrival of the police. There were, however, earlier subdued rumors that mass media would attend the funeral, and the time and place of the funeral are shown in posters throughout the city, so late Mauro can be mistaken for a pop or opera star.
But Mauro’s family lock themselves in, and we find ourselves witnessing private mourning. The hours and days before the funeral are excruciating (the Muslim tradition springs to mind; it prescribes funeral on the day of death, effectively to leave the bereaved no time to take the tragedy in). Attempts to follow the mourning customs look (even to them) phony and absurd; attempts to leave the tragedy behind and go on with their lives, strange and sacrilegious. The director makes sure  to keep the audience and the characters within three simple locations: everyone is locked in their personal hell of waiting (only occasionally does overheated seashore landscape, almost a desert, pop in like a breath of fresh air). Bruno, the son of the deceased, is whiling away the time on the rooftop with his friend: they talk about girls and football. The only indication of the tragic circumstances is that his friend offers him a black hoodie instead of a green one because it’s more appropriate. Cesare, the father, is not so much devastated as frozen and dispassionate, which is partially due to a long conflict with his son (it’s possible he won’t attend the funeral at all). He goes on with his life as before, namely, associating with similar old men in his hut on the shore. The widow Carolina in her apartment in the city cannot detach herself from the outer world because of incessant visits of friends and relatives. But as she zones out, she loses track of condolences and keeps asking “Excuse me?” She tries to cry but can’t, no matter how long she tortures herself with her late husband’s photos, music, knife, fork, or mug. In fact, the “longing for tears” and “waiting for grief” become the main subject of the movie, and the main question is to what extent rituals can help (or stand in the way of) the understanding of the paradox of death – if it can be fathomed at all.
Some of the director’s choices may seem pretty straightforward: for example,when at the right moments we listen to the right music from beginning to end with the main character; or when right in the middle of the movie, all three protagonists erupt into monologues; or when the fairy-tale “Open an umbrella for me under the rain” which the mother tells to her tired son, immediately materializes in the real world. But eventually this too becomes part of the ritual, which we can’t but follow.
Igor Savelev