Il grande sogno (The Big Dream) (2009)  




Director:     Michele Placido. 

Starring:     Riccardo Scamarcio (Nicola),  Michele Placido (Andrea),  Laura Morante (Maddalena),  Jasmine Trinca (Laura),  Luca Argentero (Libero),   Ottavia Piccolo (Laura - adulta),  Giulia Michelini Brenno Placido (Giulio)Silvio Orlando (Colonnello carabinieri),  Pasquale Cassalia (Allievo),  Massimo Popolizio (Domenico),  Alessandra Acciai (Francesca),  Federica Vincenti (Rosa).

Italy, 1968; a policemen, who wants to be an actor, is a mole among the student radicals when he falls in love with the radical Laura who likes him and a fellow student radical


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film.  Curse words.


Italian policemen are in formation.  The fellow in charge doesn't like what he sees, so he goes over to a soldier and asks him his name.  His name is Nicola Casella of the Student Public Safety Guard:  First Battalion, Second Company. 

The time is autumn, 1967.  Young men and women are dancing in a nightclub.  At home a man is having sex with a prostitute who seems totally oblivious to what he's doing.  She is reading a magazine and sings the song being played on the radio. Her named is Rosina and the fellow is Nicola.  After he finishes, he asks her who her favorite actor is?  Antonio Guidi and Marcello Mastroianni. 

A woman named Laura eturns home from the night club.  She goes upstairs and starts to pack her bags.  With her she has lots of radical literature.  She tells her brother that if he ever tells her boyfriend, she will kill him. 

The young woman hooks up with some other radicals.  They start their peace march.  An older spokesman tells the group thank you.  They left Milan 18 days ago and now they are just outside Rome.  So far they have been warmly received wherever they went. "Consciences are stirring."  Another man takes over the loudspeaker.  Someone whispers a message to him.  He tells the audience that the radio has announced that Ernesto Che Guevara is dead, ambushed by the Bolivian Army. 

A family is having a meal while they watch the television.  Dad sees on the news the peace march that his daughter recently participated in.  This fact is not known by father.  He is highly critical of the march.  He asks if the communists really want peace?  Laura tells dad that she was there and yes there were communists but also with them were students, workers, Catholic associations and a Vietnamese delegation.  Dad and mom say that Laura lied to them, that she betrayed them.  Dad gets really angry and bangs the table while he tells Laura to go to her room. 

January 1968.  "La Sapienza" University of Rome.  The professors are examining the students in class one by one.  Laura gets a  chemistry question to which she gives a political answer. 

One of the professors starts quoting Dante's famous work in which he says those who used their lives to spread scandal and schism are now cleft in two in hell.  A radical student blurts out to the professor what the fuck are you telling us? 

Laura keeps spouting off about the class divisions in Italy.  The professor questioning her tells her if it wasn't for her high scores, he would throw her out of the class.  He asks that she just answer the question.

The male radical student asks if the literature professor even knows what's going on in the world?  Do you watch television?  The professor answers back:  "You watch too much and read Dante too little."  The radical asks how can the professor be so sarcastic about Vietnam?  He starts an uprising in the class.  Soon the students are marching out of the class. 

In the class where Laura is being questioned, the students also start walking out of class.

Nicola gets balled out by his officer for not cleaning his weapon with his full attention. 

The students are walking out.  Someone says that a student walkout also started in Architecture in Turin.  There is talk of a sit-in.  A professor talks to them and says:  "Universities are not independent, they're the tools of power of the capitalist system."  The students unfurl a large banner that hangs down along the walls of a university building.  The one word on the banner is:  "Occupation."

Nicola catches hell again.  He has a communist newspaper with him.  He tells his officer that he only uses the paper for the movie schedule.   The officer tells him he should only use the newspaper to wipe his ass. 

Six women sit with a priest and talk about raising funds for different causes.  In the past they raised money for the starving children in Biafra.  One of the women is the secretary of the priest.  She also cheats on her husband and is Laura's mother's best friend. One of Laura's brothers, Giulio, is going to put something unpleasant in the drinks to be served to the women and the priest.  He tells his other brother Andrea that Andrea is always complaining that these women are "the quintessence of middle-class hypocrisy".  Giulio says he is mixing his semen into the drink mixture. 

Their mother Francesca goes to get some orange juice for the priest.  Her husband complains that her friends are making too much of a racket.  He asks if Laura is coming?  Francesca tells him Laura is studying with that red headed fellow Enrico. 

Enrico is studying not his school work but the body of Laura.  He wants to have sex with her and works hard to remove her clothes.

Laura watches as the male radical student speaks to a large classroom full of students.  Laura raises her hand and is asked to come to the front.  She says they must get a new university before they can work on creating a new society.  "This university was conceived during Fascism for us from the middle-class, not for the working or peasant classes.  Let's give everyone the chance to study."  The male speaker comments that everyone agrees with comrade Laura, but they are also asking for fundamental changes in the capitalist system. 

Nicola has to appear before his officer and before the commanding officer too.  The commanding officer says that Nicola is from Torremaggiore, father's dead, seven siblings and adds "your uncle used his pull to get you on the Force."  The commander says that Nicola and his friends better be careful because they know all about them.  They know, for instance, that he and his buddies often go to a whore house.  And they know that Nicola likes a particular prostitute named Padula Rosa.  He picks up a book by Bertolt Brecht and asks Nicola doesn't he know that this man is a communist?  Nicola replies:  "I like theater."  And why does Nicola only read foreign playwrights?  There is not a single Italian playwright among his books.  No answer.  The commanding officer decides to use Nicola as an undercover agent. 

The male student radical sits down beside Laura.  He apologizes for being so curt to her earlier.  She asks was that an exception?  The fellow laughs.

The radicals got a lot of rice croquettes in a box.  One of the students started to eat it but found needles in it the hard way.  His mouth became very bloody and the students rushes him over to the student infirmary.

Nicola wanders into the heart of the student movement.  He stands off to one side listening to a kind of informal council meeting.  After the meeting, the male radical had said that he was going to take :Laura to have a pizza.  Apparently, he forgot.  He goes off with another young woman named Stefania.  Nicola witnesses this and asks Laura if he can ask her a question?  Sure.  Is she on the committee, because he finds her to be a good speaker.   He says she has never seen him before because he is off-campus studying Law.  Laura cuts the conversation short and leaves. 

The commanding officer shows slides of radical students.  The curly dark haired fellow is Lorenzo Melchiorri.  Then there's Anna Palmieri, Rino Mansueto (called Stalin) and Laura's radical student leader Libero Zanchi.  Nicola is showing the slides and other police officers asks him for the name of the girl he was talking to.  He says she's just a girl looking for a cigarette.  His colleagues tell Nicola to concentrate on the girl. 

So Nicola keeps close to Laura, going wherever she goes.  She is working for the cause, when Nicola asks her what's she doing?  She enlists him to help her hand out radical news leaflets.  They start talking about cinema.  She says one of the theaters is doing a series on the New Wave in French cinema. They go to a movie together.  After the movie, he asks Laura if she is with that guy Libero?  No.  He starts kissing Laura, but she resists him.  Just then his prostitute friend comes by and says hello to Nicola, who seems a bit embarrassed at the casual meeting.  He starts explaining Rosa away when the prostitute Gina says hello to him.  Laura laughs, says good night and kisses Nicola on the left cheek. 

Mom tells Laura that Enrico came by today and said that he had not seen Laura for 20 days.  Laura just tells her mother that she is tired.  Mother says that she doesn't know her own daughter anymore.  She adds that Laura is ruining their lives and Laura's too.  Laura says she wants to be free to make her own decisions and decide what she is going to do with her life.  Laura shuts the door in her mother's face, but mother opens yjr door.  This little pattern is repeated about three more times.  Mother demands that Laura open up the door.  This time Laura does and apologizes to her mother. 

Laura sees Libero and asks him why he left the Party?  He says the Party is dead.  They just don't know it.  Nicola comes into the room and sees the two talking.  He takes a seat close to them.  Lorenzo is also in the room and he asks to see a comrade's camera.  The guy doesn't want Lorenzo touching it for whatever reason. 

A group of young men push their way into the building.  Lorenzo accuses the man with the camera of being a spy.  Everyone starts chasing the fellow.  They grab the fellow and Lorenzo slaps him hard across the face.  Nicola is quickly up and puts himself in front of the "spy".  The spy gets away and now the fellows are mad at Nicola.  Laura stands up for Nicola.  Meanwhile the men with clubs start hitting the students.  There are so many students that they push the armed men down the stairs.  Nicola tries to protect Laura from danger and gets hit upside the head with a stick.  His head bleeds. 

The radical leader and his girlfriend tell Nicola and Laura:  "It was a provocation, they want police intervention."  The girlfriend pulls her radical boyfriend away.  Laura starts crying saying that everything is happening so fast.  Then she hugs Nicola hard.  He is happy to hug her back.  He tells her not to stay here overnight because it's dangerous.  She tells him that she wants to stay here.  The two start kissing.   Nicola stays with Laura.

At night the police arrive.  Meanwhile, Laura and Nicola walk in the dark through the aisles of books in the library.    Nicola ignites his cigarette lighter to get some light on the situation.  Laura tells him that he is so handsome.  They start kissing again.  The police now bust through the student barriers.  While this is happening, Nicola and Laura find a corner where they start having sex.  Nicola learns that Laura is still a virgin. 

The police start grabbing students left and right.  A policeman keeps hitting a girl on the head because he says he didn't even have time to have his cup of coffee.  Somehow the police don't find the two lovers. 

A baptism occurs with Laura's family in attendance.  Andrea is supposed to be the godfather, but he won't renounce the devil.  Rather he tells the priest that this is not the Medieval Ages.  He tells his father that he does not believe in this stuff.  Dad slaps him hard.  Andrea walks out.  Laura chases after him. 

Spring 1968.  The high school students march out of their schools.  Laura is involved in the protests.  Nicola is going to have to be a regular policeman today (which is the height of stupidity because it exposes him to being tagged as the police mole, then any effectiveness he might have had is lost).  The police line up.  They ask the student leaders to come with them to speak with the president of the university.  But when the crowd of students learns that the police move is a trap a big struggle occurs between the police and the students.  Some of the police get hit with sticks, but more students get hit with the baton.  Some of the police jeeps are set on fire.

The police jeep carrying Nicola starts chasing after a group of students, one of whom is Laura.  The police jump out of the jeep and one of them grabs Laura.  Nicola is right behind the policeman and he tells the fellow that the woman is his girl.  His officer hears this and tells him to get back into the jeep.  Nicola breaks away from him and runs over to Laura to tell her he's sorry.  She spits in his face.  They take Laura off in the jeep.  Some of the radicals are made to go through a gauntlet of police baton blows.

Summer 1968.  Laura and her family are on their big estate.  Laura tells her parents that in September she is moving out because she found an apartment together with university comrades.  Mom gets really angry and father tells Laura to go after her mother.

The family dog is blind.  A gate to the property is always supposed to be closed so the dog Frida cannot get out and get lost.  The gate was not closed this day so the whole family is out looking for their dog.

Nicola auditions for a part in a play.  The men don't seem to care for his acting, but a woman gives him another shot at the audition.

Avola, Sicily.  Laura is down in Sicily with her fellow radicals.  They are fighting against the powerful Sicilian landowners.  The police arrive and Libero has to run to escape arrest. 

Nicola is with his theater group.  The woman who saved him from being dismissed, is now privately teaching him about acting.  While learning, the couple start hugging and kissing. 

Meanwhile, Laura and the radical leader have sex.  They and the other radicals have a sumptuous dinner. 

Winter 1968.  Nicola asks a friend for the address of Laura Guidoni.  The fellow says he can't give it to him.  What he can tells him is that Laura is always glued to that Libero Zanchi from Turin.  And they picketed a factory on Via Tiburtina. 

Nicola goes to Via Tiburtina and sees Laura.  She sees him and walks over to him.  She asks him if he is spying on them again?  He says he is studying acting at the Acting Academy.  He says he wanted to tell her but there was no time.  She calls him a liar and turns to go.  A couple of the radicals come over to chase Nicola away.  He decks one of them and leaves rather than decking the other radical. 

One of Laura's brothers calls her to tell Laura that father is very sick and has been taken to the hospital.  Mother and the two boys are with their father.  Mom tells Dad that Laura is taking an exam.  Yes, she's back studying at the university.  Laura just arrives as the ambulance pulls out.  She talks with her brother Andrea and tells him that Libero is up north, probably in Turin. 

Nicola now has trouble in the classroom with his teacher.  He says he won't say "alas", but she demands that he say "alas".  Nicola says he won't say it and she calls him a baby.  The students seem to be on the side of Nicola.  They suggest using a more modern expression.  The teacher won't bunch.  A female student says:  "It's not a crime to rethink something.  This isn't a museum."  Teacher shouts back that the text is one hundred years old and the students can't better Chekhov!  She walks out of the class. 

Libero speaks to a crowd saying:  "It's the 1968 of 300 Mexican students murdered during the Olympics, why don't people talk about it?"  He goes on to say a man's life in Italy is only worth 125 lire.  In the crowd are Laura and Nicola. 

There will be a confrontation between the police and farm workers, backed by the radicals.  Libero says in Italy the response to social struggle is always repression and violence.  And it's time to say "stop" to this.  He goes on to say that yesterday the police in Avola fired their weapons for 10 minutes.  There were two dead and 48 wounded.  Nicola gets up to say that he is an ex-cop.  He says  that he talked to the police at Avola and many of them did not take part in the bloodletting.  He adds:  "I'm ashamed of our chiefs who gave the orders to fire."  He also says he's sorry for what happened at Avola. 

Nicola sits to eat right next to Laura.  He tells her that the protest has even reached the acting students in the Academy.  Laura asks and he tells her that he is staying at the Taormina Hotel, but he's looking for a private room because an actor needs time alone.  There is a dance after the dinner.  Laura and Nicola are talking together nicely.  Libero tells a comrade that after the violence in Avola, they have to forget the non-violence crap.  With him he has a write up of how to make a Molotov cocktail. 

President Nixon resigns the presidency, February 27, 1969. 

Andrea and his girl Isabella throw a Molotov cocktail at a military installation.  Isabella tells Andrea that the military police caught Gabriele! 

Laura goes to the hospital to visit her father.  Mom tells her that the police searched Andrea's room thoroughly.  Then they wanted to search Dad's room.  Giulio also got mixed up the the radical movement. Mom asks Laura why are the police looking for her brother?  Does Laura even know where her brother is?  No, but she will go look for him.  The other brother Giulio comes out and gives his sister a hug.  He says Dad is always asking for her. 

Laura and friends find Andrea.  She tells him that the police came looking for him.  Andrea needs a place to hide.  Laura takes him over to Nicola's apartment.  Afterwards, Laura thanks Nicola for helping them.  She spends the night in bed with Nicola.  (Brief nudity.)  In the morning they have a little talk.  Laura tells Nicola that she loves him.  The couple is making love when a young woman knocks on the door yelling to Laura that it's about her father. 

Laura goes to see her father in his bed.  Later, Libero tells Laura that he is sorry to hear about her father.  The priest arrives to give the last rites.  Laura starts crying.  She then says that she has to tell Andrea.  He is staying over at Nicola's place on Via dei Portoghesi.  Libero tells her that he heard all about it.  Laura says she's sorry for not telling him sooner.  He tells Laura that he loved her.

Libero goes and tells Andrea about his father.  Andrea says he wants to go see his father, but Libero warns him against going because the place is swarming with cops.  Again he tells Andrea not to go.  Isabella then speaks up telling Libero to shut up. "It's your fault if we're like this."  Nicola says that Andrea will be arrested.  Isabella says:  "Andrea can do what he wants."  Nicola tells Andrea to let him make a few calls first.  He calls his friend who calls the police to set up a time and place for Andrea to surrender himself in return for first getting to see his father.  The four involved meet in the non-marked police vehicle."  One of the two policemen tells Nicola that Andrea has to turn himself in within 30 minutes.  Nicola says that Andrea already knows. 

Andrea, Isabella and Libero show up at the apartment building and go up to see Dad.  The cops asks who are the two people with Andrea?  They put in a call to headquarters.

Upstairs Laura tells her mother that Andrea is in trouble perhaps because a friend of his implicated him in a bombing and gave him up to the police.  Mother starts crying.  Two patrol cars show up at the apartment building. 

The police ring the doorbell.  They are let in and they arrest Libero and Isabella.  Then Andrea is arrested.  The three radicals are brought out.  Nicola is mad when he sees three arrested instead of one.

Nicola rushes upstairs.  He asks Laura to let him in.  She sits down and cries and cries.  She has flashbacks of Libero and of Nicola. 

Rossa was born in the summer of 1969.  Laura was not with Nicola.  Andrea became a writer and Giulio a politician.  Libero was sentenced for terrorism and has been living in France since 1972.  Laura became a teacher of physics at a university in California.  Nicola became an actor. 


Another tale of radicals during the era of the Vietnam War.  But these are Italian radicals against the USA's Vietnam War.  They had other local protests also, for farm workers and against certain Italian businesses.  Like in the USA when the students were met by massive resistance, many of the Italian radicals abandoned non-violence and turned to the use of violence.  This, in turn, led to long imprisonments for the captured violent radicals.  Against this background, a woman has love affairs with two men: one with a student radical and one with an under-cover cop.  She switches back and forth between the two men and one has to think that perhaps she never loved either of them, maybe?  Interesting turn of events.  It's amazing how all these films about radicals in different countries seem to be much the same regardless of nationality.  And the radicals seemed to go through pretty much the same stages, from a feeling of being able to change the world non-violently to disillusionment and the use of violence to try to change society.  Yeah, it's pretty hard to change a whole society with just a few student radicals.  Changes largely come with large-scale demographic or economic forces that force the society to change.

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 



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