Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Le Amiche

Based on the novella Tra donne sole by Cesare Pavese, Le Amiche is the story of a woman who goes to Turin to start a new shop as she meets with a group of wealthy women as they all cope with the troubles of a friend amidst the turmoil in their own lives and in the world around them. Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni and written by Antonioni and Susu Cecchi D’Amico with contributions from Alba De Cespedes, the film is an exploration of five women dealing with their own identities in Turin as they deal with their own world and growing changing times around them. Starring Eleonora Rossi Drago, Gabriele Ferzetti, Franco Fabrizi, Valentina Cortese, Yvonne Furneaux, Madeleine Fischer, Anna Maria Pancani, Luciano Volpato, Maria Gambarelli, and Ettore Manni. Le Amiche is a riveting and somber film from Michelangelo Antonioni.

The film revolves a group of upper class women in the city of Turin as they deal with the suicide attempt of one of their friends just as a woman who is part of the social circle returns to the city from Rome to open a fashion salon. It’s a film that is more of a study of a group of women who live in the posh world of fashion and posh surroundings as one of them becomes despondent over her existence while another returns to her hometown as she ponders if she really fits in with this social circle. The film’s screenplay by Michelangelo Antonioni and Susu Cecchi D’Amico features a straightforward narrative that does focus on these five women that are part of this social circle of upper-class women living in Turin wearing expensive clothing and such. For Clelia (Eleonora Rossi Drago), returning to her hometown to open and manage a fashion salon from Rome allows her to look back at the town but also see the chaos in the social circle that she’s in as it relates to Rosetta (Madeleine Fischer) whose suicide attempt has disrupted a lot of the social activities in these women.

The script does feature a lot of dialogue that play into Rosetta’s despair and her need to find meaning in her life as it play into the faults of the upper-class world. Even as she find herself attracted to the artist Lorenzo (Gabriele Ferzetti) who is married to another artist in Nene (Valentine Cortese) who is also part the social circle of women with Momina De Stefani (Yvonne Furneaux) and the shallow and flaky Mariella (Anna Maria Pancani). Clelia is aware of Rosetta’s troubled emotional state as she finds herself at odds with Momina and Mariella with Nene becoming suspicious of Rosetta’s attraction towards Lorenzo. The film also showcases Clelia beginning a relationship with the architect’s assistant Carlo (Ettore Manni) who is an outsider due to his working class background yet Clelia is still fascinated by him since she doesn’t care about his social standing while Momina gets involved with Carlo’s boss Cesare Pedoni (Franco Fabrizi) who is building Clelia’s salon for this major event to occur that would attract Turin’s upper-class.

Antonioni’s direction is filled with striking and evocative compositions and settings that would play into the visual style that he would hone in later films as it play into the theme of alienation and loneliness that revolves around these characters. Shot on location in and around Turin, Antonioni uses the city as a character as a place that is changing where there a lot of these posh places emerging and such while there are places that the middle and working class go to but also the lower class as it play into Clelia’s return as she looks back at this place that was once her home. A scene where she and Carlo walk to find furniture where they walk to a street that she used to live is key to who she is as it was a place she knew she had to leave but has a fondness to it while knowing it’s different now and can’t fully return. Especially as she’s already in a world that has a lot to offer and has so many things but she does maintain a sense of reality in comparison to the likes of Momina and Mariella.

Antonioni’s usage of wide and medium shots not only play to the locations but also in the air of disconnect as it relates to these women and reality though Nene is someone who is given an immense opportunity that only a fool would turn down. Yet, she is troubled by Lorenzo’s failings as an artist as well as his attraction to Rosetta where there is a scene where she confronts Rosetta but not in a heavy dramatic way since Nene is aware of Rosetta’s mood swings. The confrontation takes place in its third act where it is about Clelia’s presentation that is followed by a troubling aftermath where all five women and a few of their dates go to eat dinner and things unravel. Especially at it all relates to Rosetta who is yearning to be fulfilled as its ending revolves more around Clelia and her own pursuits as she is aware of the faults of the posh world she lives in. Antonioni maintains that air of conflict in Clelia as well as her own feelings about Rosetta’s despair in a world that has so much but offer little salvation. Overall, Antonioni crafts a compelling yet heart-wrenching film about a group of posh women in Turin who deal with their world and the suicide attempt of one of their own.

Cinematographer Gianni Di Venanzo does brilliant work with the film’s black-and-white cinematography in the way many of the daytime exteriors are presented from the natural look of the scene on the beach to the greyer look of the city while the exterior scenes at night feature some unique lighting to maintain its atmosphere. Editor Eraldo Da Roma does excellent work with the editing as it is largely straightforward to play into the drama as well as the conversation between characters with some rhythmic cuts for dramatic effect. Production designer Gianni Polidori does amazing work with the look of the salon that Clelia is overseeing as well as a few of the homes of the women to play into their posh environment.

Costume designer Enzo Bulgarelli does fantastic work with the costumes in the design of the many dressed the women wear as it represents their unique personalities as it has a lot of life as well as the world that they represent. The sound work of Giulio Canavero, Emilio Rosa, and Ennio Sensi is terrific for its natural approach to the sound in many of the film’s locations as well as capturing the atmosphere of some of the gatherings including the fashion salon presentation. The film’s music by Giovanni Fusco is wonderful for its mixture of somber guitar-based pieces as well as heavy piano themes that play into the drama.

The film’s superb cast feature a couple of notable small roles from Maria Gambarelli as Clelia’s boss who appears late in the film and Luciano Volpato as Mariella’s boyfriend in the film’s third act. Franco Fabrizi is terrific as the architect Cesare as a man whom Momina becomes attracted to as she tries to start a relationship with him while Gabriele Ferzetti is fantastic as Lorenzo as Nene’s husband who is trying to make it as an artist while is becoming attracted towards Rosetta leading to some major trouble for everyone. Ettore Manni is excellent as Carlo as Cesare’s assistant who is a working class man that befriends Clelia as he would fall for her but is aware of their social class differences despite their fondness for one another. Anna Maria Pancani is amazing as Mariella who is this shallow woman that seems to care more about herself and whatever man she can get with little regard for people’s feelings as well as just getting everyone to join her in some gathering.

Yvonne Furneaux is brilliant as the pessimistic Momina as a woman who often says the wrong things and prefers to be the one to run things as if she maintains this air of importance unaware of the things she says about Rosetta. Madeleine Fischer is incredible as Rosetta as a young woman who is recovering from a suicide attempt as she questions about her own existence in the upper class world as well as her feelings for Lorenzo along with all sorts of things as it is a dramatic-heavy performance from Fischer. Valentina Cortese is phenomenal as Nene as Lorenzo’s artist wife who is given an opportunity to have a show in New York City where she also watches from afar in what is going on with Rosetta as she delivers a low-key yet effective performance as a woman who knows what is going on but prefers to not cause trouble nor create a scene. Finally, there’s Eleonora Rossi Drago in a sensational performance as Clelia as a woman who returns to Turin from Rome to open a fashion salon who finds herself in a posh circle of friends where she copes with trying to get a business started as well as Rosetta’s own issues where she tries to help her as it is a tender and engaging performance from Drago.

The 2016 Region 1/Region A DVD/Blu-Ray release from the Criterion Collection presents the film in a new 2K digital restoration in its original 1:33:1 aspect ratio and a remastered Italian mono soundtrack (uncompressed in its Blu-Ray release) as well as improved English subtitles. The DVD/Blu-Ray set also feature two featurettes that relates to the film as the first of which is a 27-minute conversation piece from scholars David Forgacs and Karen Pinkus on the film and its themes. Especially in what Antonioni changed from the novella, which had a more post-war environment, as well as what he wanted to say about the women in those times. Even in a place like Turin which was this city that was modern and attracted people from the south of Italy going north because there’s job opportunities there. Forgacs and Pinkus also talk about the importance of women in the film and all of those characters with the latter revealing that the film in some respects was ahead of its time in its exploration on a group of women being friends as it relates to shows like Sex & the City and Girls yet it’s a more cynical film set in a crueler environment.

The twenty-two and a half-minute interview with film scholar Eugenia Paulicelli on the film’s usage of fashion where Paulicelli discusses the importance of fashion in post-war Italy. Even as it helped create a new identity for the country following the aftermath of World War II where a new group of costume and fashion designers emerged as Antonioni was aware of this growing wave as he would use it in his films. Especially where Paulicelli talks about how the clothes play up the personality of the women in the film as well as analyze the women in who they are.

The DVD/Blu-Ray set also features an essay from film scholar Tony Pipolo entitled Friends-Italian Style that discusses the film and how it would serve as a preview of the films Antonioni would do in the 1960s that would garner him a lot of fame. Pipolo talks about how the film version differs from Cesare Pavese’s novella which was set a few years after the war where Turin was rebuilding itself whereas Antonioni chooses to set the film on Turin as it was becoming a thriving city that attracted the upper class. Pipolo also talks about Clelia’s return to the city that she used to live in and how much it changed but also what hasn’t changed as well as how fashion is used as a façade to the world that Clelia’s friends are in. Particularly a world that is disconnected from the real world that has the middle and working class wanting to be part of this new Italy whereas the rich begins to see this façade in this amazingly-written essay.

Le Amiche is a sensational film from Michelangelo Antonioni. Featuring a great ensemble cast, ravishing visuals, themes of alienation and identity in an upper class world, and a rich music score. The film is definitely an enthralling and evocative film that doesn’t just showcase a woman returning to her home city where she becomes part of a troubled social circle of friends but also watch as a young woman in that circle falling apart in a world that demands so much. In the end, Le Amiche is a phenomenal film from Michelangelo Antonioni.

Michelangelo Antonioni Films: (Story of a Love Affair) – (I Vinti) – (The Lady Without Camelia) – (Il Grido) – L'Avventura - La Notte - L'Eclisse - Red Desert - Blow-Up - Zabriskie Point - (Chung Kuo, Cina) – The Passenger - (The Mystery of the Oberwald) – Identification of a Woman - (Beyond the Clouds) – Eros-The Dangerous Thread of Things

© thevoid99 2020


Paula said...

Steven, it's been years since I've seen this movie and your review brought back some good memories. Thank you.
By the way, of the Antonioni films you've seen, is there one you're particularly fond of?

Jay said...

I've never seen it and the title makes my brain itch but I loved reading about it here, excellent review.

thevoid99 said...

@Paula-It's a tie between L'Avventura and Blow-Up at the moment though I do plan on doing a couple of more films by Antonioni before the end of the year.

@Jay-It's translated as The Girlfriends but I just felt its original name sounded better as it's something anyone interested in Antonioni must see.

Paula said...

L'Avventura and Blow-Up, that's cool, you certainly have a wide range of tastes in film and music which is essential for a sharp critic such as yourself. Not many viewers these days have the patience to watch Antonioni's later, minimalist works. Those two titles are among my favorites as well. Anyhow, take care and keep up the good work.