Wednesday, September 05, 2018

White Nights (1957 film)

Based on the short story by Fyodor Dostoevsky, Le notti bianche (White Nights) is the story of a newly arrived city transplant who meets a sheltered young woman on a canal bridge as they begin a complicated romance that is filled with longing and unfulfilled ideas. Directed and co-shot by Luchino Visconti and screenplay by Suso Cecchi D’Amico from a screen story by Visconti, the film is a look into a man trying to figure out his way in the world while falling for a beautiful yet troubled young woman. Starring Marcello Mastroianni, Maria Schell, Jean Marais, and Clara Calamai. Le notti bianche is a haunting yet evocative film from Luchino Visconti.

Told in the span of a few days at a canal city in Italy, the film revolves a man who is new to the city as he meets a young woman on a canal bridge claiming to wait for a former lover whom she believes will return. It’s a film that play into the idea of longing as well as unfulfilled love as a man tries to understand what this young woman is going through just as he is in love with her. The film’s screenplay by Luchino Visconti and Susu Cecchi D’Amico does have a reflective narrative of sorts when it’s told by Natalia (Maria Schell) who is awaiting the return of her former lover (Jean Marais) who was a tenant at her family home years ago as they fell in love only to leave mysteriously claiming he would return. For Mario (Marcello Mastroianni), he would listen to Natalia’s story while isn’t sure if they’re true yet he still pursues her thinking he’s found someone he can be with as he is still new to the small town he’s at.

Visconti’s direction is definitely intoxicating for the way he captures post-war Italy at its most vibrant but also with a sense of melancholia as it relates to those who long to be part of something. Shot entirely at Cinecitta Studios in Rome, Visconti uses this small town filled with canals and bridges at the center with a bar nearby as he brings a lot of attention to detail of the locations as well as where Natalia and Mario meet as they would meet again near the same bridge. Visconti’s usage of wide shots to get a scope of the location play into how vast and small the location is where there are a few regulars of this location including a white dog that Mario would meet early in the film. Visconti would also use close-ups and medium shots to play into Mario and Natalia’s meeting as well as a scene at a club where they dance with other couples as it’s one of the film’s most vibrant moments.

Visconti’s direction also has this air of style in the way he let things play out in a few long shots that include flashbacks of Natalia and her lover at the home of the former. There are moments that are intimate and full of life but there is also this sadness in the way Visconti presents Natalia’s heartbreak as he creates some unique framing devices into the way Natalia is seen in that moment and how it matches with a shot of her telling the story to Mario. Visconti would also play up the melodrama as it relates to Natalia’s own hysterics over her former lover and Mario trying to understand her though he becomes frustrated by her behavior. Even as Mario wonders if Natalia is telling the truth during the film’s third act as it would eventually lead to the possibility of a future for themselves. The scene that play into that possibility is presented with a sense of wonderment and hope yet Visconti is aware that these ideas of fantasy are just fleeting once reality would start to re-emerge. Overall, Visconti crafts an intoxicating yet somber film about a man pursuing a sheltered woman who is waiting for her lover.

Cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno, with additional work from Visconti, does brilliant work with the film’s black-and-white photography as it play into its sense of style in how nighttime exteriors are lit as well as the scenes set in the day along with the low-key look of the dance scene. Editor Mario Serandrei does excellent work with the editing as it is straightforward with a few rhythmic cuts and other abrupt cuts to play into Natalia’s flashbacks. Art director Mario Chiari and set designer Enzo Eusepi do incredible work with the look of the scenes set at the canal bridges with so much attention to detail in how the canals look as well as the interior of the bars and the dance hall.

Costume designer Piero Tosi does fantastic work with the costumes from the look of the suits that Mario wear as well as the dresses that Natalia wears. The sound work of Oscar Di Santo and Vittorio Trentino is terrific for its usage of natural sounds in the dance scenes as well as well as sirens and bells from afar. The film’s music by Nino Rota is amazing for its rich and intoxicating orchestral score that is filled with lush string arrangements and textures to play into the drama as it is a major highlight of the film.

The film’s wonderful cast include some notable small roles and appearances from Maria Zanoli as a hotel maid, Marcella Rovena as the landlady at the hotel Mario is staying at, and Clara Calamai as the prostitute who is often hanging around at the bar near the canal bridges as she tries to woo Mario. Jean Marais is brilliant as Natalia’s unnamed lover as this mysterious man who arrived at her home years ago with books and so many things while being cagey in what he wants and what he does for a living. Maria Schell is phenomenal as Natalia as a woman that is longing to see if her lover will return as she also copes with the idea of him not showing up at all where she befriends Mario and later realizes there is an idea of hope with Mario as it’s a performance that is full of anguish and energy of a woman who is complicated. Finally, there’s Marcello Mastroianni in a sensational performance as Mario as man who is new to the city as he meets and falls for Natalia wanting to help her as well as be someone that she can rely on as it’s a performance filled with humility but also liveliness in the film’s dance hall scene as it is one of Mastroianni’s finest performances.

Le notti bianche is a spectacular film from Luchino Visconti that features incredible performances from Marcello Mastroianni and Maria Schell. Along with its gorgeous visuals, captivating story of longing and uncertainty, high-quality art direction, and Nino Rota’s intoxicating score. It’s a film that play into two people trying to find love in an intimate setting at a time where so much around them is changing. In the end, Le notti bianche is a tremendous film from Luchino Visconti.

Related: Two Lovers

Luchino Visconti Films: (Obsessione) – (Giorni di gloria) – (La Terra Firma) – (Bellissima) – (Appunti su un fatto di cronaca) – (We, the Women) – (Senso) – Rocco and His Brothers - (Boccaccio ’70-Il lavoro) – The Leopard - Sandra – (The Stranger (1967 film)) – The Witches (1967 film)- The Witch Burned AliveThe Damned (1969 film) – (Alla ricerca di Tadzio) – Death in Venice – (Ludwig) – (Conversation Piece) – The Innocent (1976 film)

© thevoid99 2018


Luis said...

I love Visconti, I adore him!

thevoid99 said...

Based on what I've seen from him so far, me too.