Melancholy without ever being depressed, this 2000 Italian feature by Mimmo Calopresti (The Second Time) is a film of extraordinary resonance and depth, infused with a clarity all the sharper for its refusal to resolve or intensify conflict. The film opens in a hospital whose large, dim vaulted spaces echo the columned arcades of a coolly twilit Turin and ends with the infinite, shimmering expanse of the Calabrian sea; its uniqueness comes from its curious blend of larger-than-life mythic oppositions and the nuanced understatement of their playing out. A repressed Turin businessman (veteran actor Silvio Orlando) imports a poor young relative from his Calabrian peasant past in a desperate bid to connect with his troubled teenage son and lay his own ghosts to rest. While the businessman's furtive avoidance of any warmth, commitment, or change only escalates with each occasion for human interaction, the boys, despite their differences (the rich man's son is aimless, emotional, and unfocused, while the southern “peasant” is strong, silent, motivated, and stubborn as a rock), begin a hesitant, hedging mutual exploration. The film very definitely opposes north and south, maturity and youth, and capital and labor, but in ways that are neither didactic nor confrontational. Rather, the characters, caught between fascination and defensiveness when they encounter a contrasting lifestyle, alternate between odd circlings of each other's turfs (climbing up walls to rescue or spy on one another) and prickly strategic retreats (the two boys, dragged to a soccer game, huddle together in polite incomprehension as their usually dour, undemonstrative elder explodes in an orgy of emotion when the home team scores). Calopresti started as a documentarian, and his film lies somewhere between the flat, insistent testimony of documentary (his two young leads are startlingly believable nonprofessionals) and a moody evocation of character as destiny (Orlando has practically patented this sort of role). I Prefer the Sound of the Sea raises many questions but provides no answers, only a fascination with the textures and choices of lives in the making. 84 min.