In a typical scene from “An Endless Sunday,” three teenage delinquents wander beside a canal. They end up killing a frog with a brick. Another group of children slightly younger than they are are also mucking about, and one of them is playing the recorder, blasting out a wobbly but recognizable version of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, the second movement. It’s a musical cue that in cinema, when accompanying youths up to no good, evokes Stanley Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange.” While this Italian debut feature from Alain Parroni has more in common stylistically with Andrea Arnold’s “American Honey,” there’s a streak of nihilism and disregard for the future that would call to mind Kubrick’s droogs even without the audio shout-out.
The teens here are a trio: moody lunkish Alex (Enrico Bassetti) and his girlfriend Brenda (Federica Valentini), who acts older than she is but looks younger, and livewire Kevin (Zackari Delmas), the youngest and outwardly most wayward. All three have a natural and believable bond, even if they don’t appear to have all that much in common. Isn’t that the point with kids? Teenage friendships are born just as often from the happenstance of proximity or the coincidences of shared pastimes as they are from any real deep psychological compatibility.
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Set in and around Rome, “An Eternal Sunday” assumes a pointed piquancy as young people ponder their lack of a future in the Eternal City. For these Italian characters, growing up in a place with such a strong sense of history, in an era where the future seems uncertain, Italy’s storied past is an oppressive and irrelevant burden.
The teens share a horror of aging. When the possibility of an unplanned pregnancy looms, they comfort themselves repeatedly with the notion that at least they would be young parents, not “old fucks.” Parroni does a good job of balancing the way that adolescents veer from experimenting with a worldly-wise cynicism and dipping back into the wildness of childhood. These are people who have not yet learned to compromise or take a breath before acting, and that’s exactly what makes them so charming, exasperating, and potentially dangerous, if mainly to themselves.
Older people are notable by their absence: They simply don’t factor much in the teenagers’ sense of the world. Brenda’s grandmother is the strongest influence, passing on witchy traditions rooted in folkloric beliefs around birth and death, while Alex’s mentor figure is an elderly German sheep farmer and small-time crook (Lars Rudolph) who appears to have been dealt a pretty tough hand in life himself. He certainly isn’t in any shape to offer much of a safe space to a young man caught between the Italy of the past and the global crises of the future.
Skillful camerawork from Andrea Benjamin Manenti supports the film’s sense of shifting personalities in the process of evolving: at times vivid and naturalistic, with flights of kinetic surrealism where you can’t quite be sure whether you’re watching a character’s fantasy or reality (until it’s too late and people are stuck dealing with the consequences). That’s all too often how it feels to be a teenager.
Audiences who thrilled to the likes of Gregg Araki’s loose ’90s trilogy, “Totally Fucked Up,” “Doom Generation” and “Nowhere” are now the age that Alex, Brenda and Kevin would write off as “old fucks,” but “An Endless Sunday” feels woven from similar cloth — and that’s a good thing, broadly speaking. Having deservedly earned a Fipresci prize at Venice, “An Endless Sunday” should hope to capture the attention of both nostalgic elder millennials and people closer to the age of the characters depicted.
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