The first story is captivating but silly. Felice is laughing, but is he happy. It's the oldest joke: why is this man laughing? Well, it's the 30s and Rome is a very unhappy place, so the only place you can be happy is in bed, and even there, you're safer asleep.
Poor Felice cannot rise above his station as an accountant for the Opera. He'd rather be a baritone, role that Antonio Albanese embodies with bitter frustration. When he laughs in his sleep, we feel like voyeurs, and our being engtangled in his mysterious humor fills us with anticipation.
We stick with the story, as it multiplies and becomes a tale, then two tales of kidnapping. An old abduction from an era full of political implications again holds out promise of political insight or, at least, sharp Italian class consciousness.
The settings in Sicily are intriguing, yet again the film fails to deliver a memorable, unified situation for its very light plot. Viuolence, eros, neighbors and strangers flow past us lending the semblance of lessons in ethics and history, but it never jells. Exquisite filmmaking in the service of non-narrative becomes as frustrating as the laughing man. Presumably the point of this blunted effort is to show us that we, too, are asleep - and virtually kidnapped by the conventions of cinema.
We may laugh at the occasional image, but its arbitrariness isolates it from us and from others, so that we are shot off from comprehending the Taviani film in its fullest. It's just too hip for the room. Cut loose from your captors! Walk out! And remember that old Italian saying: He who laughs last, laughs best.
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