The Sixties. The discovery of oil in a village of the Po Valley shows the path to happiness for the new generations, opening the age of the Italian “economic miracle”. The new Italian dream is a simple mix of work, family and wealth. But what if the dream of an entire society is not yours?
In a time of deep crisis like ours, seeking happiness far from the real world may seem a plausible though trite narrative choice. Leaving behind a perfect society, however, embodying a magnificent collective dream, to pursue a different, uncertain, purely personal dream, is quite a different thing.
As a man called to forsake his “dolce vita”, Enrico does not have it easy. He is young and smart, he has the right job and a beautiful wife. Men envy him. Women see him as a good catch. But while “nobody is an island”, conforming yourself to the mainstream ideology (however optimistic and benevolent it may look) is not necessarily going to make you happy.
Enrico’s original sin is to be “weird”. A radio ham operator. A man incapable of enjoying what this economic boom has afforded him: a family, a car, a career, and a retirement package.
Enrico tries hard to be a good upstanding citizen. His conflicts with his wife, Wanda, and with his co-worker and friend, Marino, are primarily conflicts within himself. He is something of an “alien” who does not recognize himself as such, and, at least in beginning , desperately tries to honor values he does not quite understand.
Cortemaggiore, a small town reinvented as the “ideal city” of the Italian economic miracle, is the first visual and poetic locus of the film.
Stylistically, the idea of depicting Italy as an idealized, future-oriented, oil-blessed country (long before any ecological awareness) represents the gap between “system” and “individual”, where the former, even in its most benign expression, is inherently totalitarian.
The use of digital camera techniques and digital visual effects is thus a conscious choice, both in form and in content. The modular box-like homes where Agip top managers live, embody the very idea of progress in the era of its most attractive promises. The six-legged dog is the symbol of a triumphant, synthetic, productive future, where the ambition of the individual is submitted to the functioning of the system.
Completely different, even from a visual point of view, is the second locus of the film: the world of the amateur radio operators. Loners, misfits, “untouchables”, these characters have been excluded from the system. Their post-war homes, inspired by the aesthetic of the Neorealist cinema, are located outside the ideal city and are topped by clunky antennas: pagan totems to any self-built radio station.
Hidden behind their baggy sweaters and thick-rimmed glasses, buried in small rooms, stuffed with radio engineering junk, these ante-litteram computer geeks dedicate their lives to a pioneering (albeit useless and unproductive) activity: the art of speaking about nothing with similar geeks on the other side of the world. The only reason why Enrico does not attend their chaotic meetings is his fear of, ultimately, being one of them.
The dramatic discovery of Ludmila, a Russian cosmonaut lost in space, finally triggers the painful, yet inevitable process which will lead Enrico towards self-realization, a process he can only accomplish by giving up his own family and career.
The Vostok spacecraft is a narrow, fragile rusty metal ball, adrift in the darkness of its orbital path. Along with the “Neorealist” amateur radio world, and the idealized society of the Italian economic miracle, this is the third visual and poetic locus of the film.
A metaphor for another deceptively perfect world (in this case, the socialist system), the Vostok hosts the (melo)drama of desperate and lonely Ludmila. Just like Enrico, she is a broken cog in the machinery. Incapable of tolerating differences, the Soviet Leviathan first ignores her, then abandons her.
Here lies the origin of Enrico and Ludmila’s love story. Rejected by their respective worlds, they attract each other like two lonely drifting stars.
The bittersweet ending of the film, compatible with at least two alternative stories, apparently matches dream and reality: Enrico’s outer space love story as opposed to the earthly Italian economic miracle.
But isn’t that a paradox? What is the most unlikely story? The struggle of a shy radio ham operator who risks his life to save a lost cosmonaut orbiting around the Earth, or the stubborn faith of an entire society in a dream of endless peace, prosperity and growth?
As inhabitants of the future, we all should know by now.