A charming, weightless collection of vignettes tracking a wealthy Italian family in late-1960s Paris.
In each of two-dozen sketches, first-novelist and screenwriter Ferri (The Son’s Room) demonstrates a terrific eye for setting up a small, perfect scene to be played out through a young girl’s histrionics. Little by little, details of the narrator’s life emerge: the Italian family has moved to Paris in the wake of the father’s shadowy work (he’s a gambler and businessman, former partisan and cavalry officer, now fabulously wealthy); the mother is Italian-American, and the family occasionally visits the relatives in New York; the narrator is uncommonly attached to her younger sister, Clara, an ally against the two older brothers, and the girls attend an Italian school in Paris; the family lives in a Proustian apartment house, spending the long summer vacation in a villa in the Italian countryside. More intimately, the sketches offer touching observations of the narrator’s shifting feelings and alliances, set against the larger adult world the children understand little. The two sisters are traumatically separated into different classes at school; an aging governess is hired to care for them afternoons, showing them a life that has suffered from the “three-headed Hydra (War, Bankruptcy, Divorce)”; the narrator accompanies her mother as Lady of Charity to visit a poor Italian family and is shocked by the contrast to her father’s greedy wealth; and her first humiliation is being unable to handle her father’s wild mare, the terrible “gray czarina.” Occasionally, a reference marks the time period, as that the father met Brigitte Bardot in the Nice airport, or that Simone de Beauvoir spoke at the Champ de Mars demonstration in May 1968. Each scene holds a sweet distillation of feeling but little development, resulting in an impressionist enchantment perfect for the screen, though somewhat insubstantial for the page.
The small thrills and heartbreaks of childhood.