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D'Amore si Vive: A Retrospective of Childhood as the Climax of Intelligence

Still from D’amore si vive (Silvano Agosti – Director, 1984)

One lives by love.

This first sentence cannot but suggest the interest of the viewer on what is presented, perhaps it fascinates him, or at least provokes some excitement. The discovery of this documentary has been enlightening. It is like something that shines in the background and catches our attention: a work that, by either its content or its appearance, seems to stand out from all of the rest. In this case, what appears to be an innocent 9-year-old boy talking about life but whom, nevertheless, denotes a wisdom far deeper than that of some of the most magnificent intellectuals.

The fragment belongs to the work of Silvano Agosti, a testimonial documentary that gathers opinions and theories about life, beauty, love or kindness, from different people from Parma (Italy) and which was filmed back in 1984. What a coincidence, wouldn't Agosti be a hidden crony of some allegorical reincarnation of George Orwell himself? I mean, for the utterly subversive utopia that the child craves as opposed to the dystopia of the Big Brother. In a way, the very subtle and tender desires that are raised in the documentary fragment are so strange to our worldly conception that they could well be categorised as a disruption of reality in the same way that Orwell's London was. In this case, it is a child, not an adult, who opens our eyes to values and judgements that whether they seem true or not, are real and vanish as we grow up. Although these words may sound somewhat accusatory, what it is being said here transcends the political sphere of personal development and goes beyond it: we are talking about neurophysiological change, the evolution of the subject as a particular individual.

It turns out that a child's brain undergoes an extraordinary functioning that is far more complete and complex than that of an adult. In the stage from birth to 10-12 years of age or the entry into puberty, there is a hyper-experiencing of the environment that, despite having all of us experienced it, is later forgotten. This is due to what is known as the "pruning stage". Moreover, it is scientifically proven that the greatest neuronal development after that produced as a baby occurs during teenager hood. This huge development is determined, paradoxically, by a process of readjustment and elimination of neuronal connections which, being a unitary and global event, ends up establishing the identity of the adult subject, his self-concept and, consequently, the adoption of his role in the community. As the personality of the individual is created during these adolescent years, behaviours of self-censorship are adopted that end up becoming tangible paths in the neurological map of the brain. That is, the morality that is adopted is not only a social fact, but also and above all, a neurophysiological event.

Silvano Agosti at his home in Rome (picture taken by Lorenzo Pallini)

Given this, it could be argued that children are smarter than adults, couldn't it? It seems a rather illusory hypothesis, but if we analyse the fact that the brain of a prepubescent, in addition to having a much more complex and higher operational processing than that of an adult, has both more neurons and connections between them, the statement becomes clearer. So why do we treat the youngest children as if they were less intelligent than we are? This would be because of the lack of experience that inevitably governs their behaviour. However, for instance, if a child had enough background to remind us adults of the fundamentals of existence, what then? Do we tell Nietzsche that God does exist and has incarnated himself in a tiny little body with no armpit hair? That was Silvano Agosti's luck and skill, to come across such a child, a child who represents in his dialogue the wisdom of a whole life, even without having breathed it yet. It is undoubtedly worth highlighting the opinion capacity that the child shows, together with the critical sense that he brings to his comments. In his conversation, he exalts political awareness and multiculturalism as a tool against the illiterate and short-sighted localism that often reigns in many societies and human groups.

The question then arises as to what to do after having seen (or "experienced") the video. Should it remain just another piece of art, or is its intention different? It is presumable to deduce that this work, rather than being a mere documentary in nature, also has hints of an admonitory project. Moreover, a warning about the danger of superficiality, a reminder of the need to be more passionate, to allow ourselves to feel free, in addition to the neuronal pruning to which we are physiologically obliged, to the censorious filter of the community. In the end, a sample of a fundamental critical judgement that, at the hands of a child, aims to attack the trained adult and make this reflection a basic duty to be undertaken because, surprise surprise:

The child is smarter than us, we need to listen to him.


  • Agosti, Silvano [Director] (1984). D’amore si vive [documentary]. Italy. Available on:

  • Aguirre, Ángel [coord.] (1994). Adolescent psychology. Spain: Marcombo.

  • Escobar, Alfonso and Gómez, Beatriz (2006). Creativity and brain function. Mexican Journal of Neuroscience, vol. 7, no. 5, pp. 391-399.

  • Nietzsche, Friedrich (2008). Thus spoke Zarathustra. India: Prabhat Books. [1st ed.: 1883]

  • Orwell, George (2015). Nineteen Eighty-Four. India: Prabhat Books. [1st ed.: 1949]

  • Punset, Eduardo [Director] (2014). La adolescencia nos hizo humanos. Redes. Spain: TVE. Available on:

  • Thompson, Marce (2018). De amor se vive: un documental que rompe paradigmas culturales [blog’s article]. Available on:


Author Photo

Alicia Macías Recio

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