#817 Le amiche
1955 // Italy // Michelangelo Antonioni
Criterion Release Date: 7 Jun 2016 (LINK)
Watching the fourth feature of Antonioni just reminded me how radical and transformative his later achievement in the 60s on modernistic cinema was. There are glimpses of Antonioni’s detached characteristics on human relationship, vacuous space and architecture, ferocious life of bourgeoisie in Le amiche.
The film is based on a Cesare Pavese novel, “Among Women Only”. As the titles of both the novel and the film (amiche means girlfriends) suggest, the story invokes the bourgeois life and intermingled relationships among five women and their lovers. With Gianni Di Venanzo’s fluid camera movement and Antonioni’s precise framing and reframing, the film surpasses the mere sentimentality of melodrama. There are not as much “empty shot” of vacant streets and metaphorical objects as Antonioni’s later works have, like in L’Avventura (1960), or the last seven minutes “landscape shots” in L’eclisse (1962). Le amiche could be even considered as too “talkie”, with dialogues over dialogues in advancing the story.
Failure in maintaining a man-and-woman relationship has always been a main subject in Antonioni’s oeuvre, told mainly from the woman’s perspective (kind of remaining me of the women suffering in Keji Mizoguchi’s works). Clelia (Eleonora Rossi Drago), the principal character in Le amiche, returns to Turin to open a fashion salon after a successful run in Rome, incidentally saves Rosetta (Madeleine Fischer), who happens to stay next door in the same hotel, from an attempted suicide. Later she met Rosetta’s friends, the flamboyant Momina (Yvonne Furneaux), aspiring ceramics artist Nene (Valentina Cortese) and the defiant Mariella (Anna Maria Pancani).
Unlike the other four, Clelia is born in working class family and arises to prosperity by her own effort. Despite her reluctance in revisiting her childhood place and the ostensible class difference, she is eventually attracted to the architect’s assistance Carlo (Ettore Manni), whilst the architect Cesare (Franco Fabrizi) enjoys a playboy relationship with Momina. Love, hate and social boundaries are nonetheless essential in providing the melodramatic effect in Le amiche, the reason behind Rosetta’s suicide involves a love-triangle relationship with Nene’s boyfriend, Lorenzo (Gabriele Ferzetti) the painter, and it ultimately leads to a heartbreaking tragic ending.
Flawed and occasionally selfish, characters in Le amiche are nothing but unsympathetic, yet the film does not act to be judgmental. The neorealistic root of Italian cinema, as Antonioni desires “to depict neorealism within the individual”, is after all inescapable. The end result is the representation of human interactions and relationships (or failure in doing so) over the illustration of predicament from physical environment. Le amiche maybe a minor achievement from Antonioni, but it surely foreshadows the much distilled artistic vision several years later.