“The Universal” (“L’Universale”)
At the Movies
“The Universal” is the story of 3 friends and the Cinema Universale, a film theatre in Florence where the real show was the audience. It is the cinematographic reworking of a local legend about a place that really existed: the Universale Cinema, which operated during the 1970s in the working-class district of Pignone, halfway between the suburbs and the centre of Florence. The director, Federico Micali wanted to bring the story of this cinema, handed down by word of mouth, back to life in comedic form, after already having made a documentary about it some years ago.
At the Universale, the audience was the attraction. The film opens with during the screening of “Easy Rider” and a Vespa comes bursting into the theatre, driven by a character who is never identified. The loyal and certainly colorful clientele of the Universale would smoke hash and marijuana, crack jokes non-stop, snog, dance if the film was a musical, and sing ‘Bandiera rossa’ (a left-wing political song) if the film was political. They would do everything but watch the film in a calm and composed manner. This doesn’t mean they didn’t love film. When a hard-working programmer showed films Godard, Kurosawa and Bertolucci, the audiences of the Universale respected this and the audience actually broadened and diversified becoming an art house audience.
Within this historical, albeit legendary truth, Federico Micali intertwines the destinies of three friends over the course of more than ten years: Tommaso (Francesco Turbanti), the son of the projectionist, Alice (Matilda Lutz) and Marcello (Robin Mugnaini). We see their private and collective stories, which centre around the cinema, reflect historical events that affected the whole country: changing habits and customs, politics (years characterized by social struggle and terrorism and music: from John Wayne to Marlon Brando in “Last Tango in Paris”, heroin, punk and the New Wave, free radio and the kidnapping of Aldo Moro.
This film is a tribute to art house film and a point of reference for a couple of generations, and to an era, the 1970s, which was full of contradictions but hugely rich in artistic and cultural ferment, passion and emotion.