Monday, December 2, 2019

Michelangelo Antonioni | Le amiche (The Girlfriends)

the woman from rome
by Douglas Messerli

Michelangelo Antonioni, Suso Cecchi D'Amico, and Alba De Cespedes (writers, based on the novella “Tra donne sole” by Cesare Pavese), Michelangelo Antonioni (director) Le amiche (The Girlfriends) / 1955

Michelangelo Antonioni’s Le amiche, from 1955, does not have the deep intensity or for that matter the complexity of his great trilogy, L’Avventura, La Notte, and L’Eclisse of the 1960s; but as The New York Times critic A. O. Scott noted about a 2010 revival of the film, it is, nonetheless, “enchanting and strange.”
       I’m not sure I’d use those exact terms. L’Avventura, when I reviewed it a few years ago, did not appear as experimental and unconventional when I reviewed it a few years ago, as it clearly was to the critics of the day. And this film, based on a Cesare Pavese novella, reads, at times, more like an updating of George Cukor’s 1939 film, The Women than something like Blowup, although the latter is also based on a short story, and features, like this film, fairly well-off and sophisticated arts people.
      Yet here, unlike Cukor’s chestnut, there are men, with whom the five central women friends—Clelia (Eleonora Rossi Drago), Rosetta (Madeleine Fischer), Momina (Yvonne Furneaux), Neme (Valentina Cortese), and Mariella (Anna Maria Pancani)—fall in and out of love.
      Unlike The Women, who are intelligent but spend most of their loves caring for their bodies, attending fashion shows, and most of all gossiping about one another, this small coven of accidental “friends” are closer to closet feminists, particularly Clelia, who has come to Turin (her hometown) from Rome to open up a new salon like the one she has in the capitol city.

      The locals, Rosetta and Neme, are in love with a handsome, but failed artist, Lorenzo (Gabriele Ferzetti). Although currently married to Neme, he has painted a portrait of Rosetta, who has fallen in love with him through the act, and hence, given the impossibility of their love, begins the melodrama by attempting to kill herself; fortunately for the film, she does not succeed, and instead gains a new friend Clelia who happens to be staying in a hotel room next to hers.

      Momina, married, lives in an open relationship, mostly with architect Cesare (Franco Fabrizi) who is too slowly rebuilding Clelia’s new shop. So too Momina’s protégé Mariella would love to develop a relationship with him.
       The more down-to-earth Clelia, meanwhile, falls for Cesare’s working-class assistant,  Carlo (Ettore Manni), but quickly realizes that she has long ago moved out of her own working-class roots and that if they truly became a couple realizes, as she tells him, “We would just fight about furniture.”
        Perhaps the film’s strangest scene is when this entire group takes off a day to travel to the beach, where they play out some of their fears and frustrations, Clelia worried that Rosetta may attempt suicide once more, and Mariella attempts to seduce Cesare, while all around them couples appear to be having sex in the shadows of the beach shacks and dunes.
       It is a brilliantly paced scene, languid yet brittle with tension. And suddenly what might have seemed to be friendship and love turns out to be a kind of existentialist drama wherein each figure must face her inner self. None of the people, we now perceive, really belongs with the others. And despite some of their career successes, none of them is truly fulfilled.
       Moreover, as the “girlfriends” gradually perceive, the three men in their lives are simply not reliable, as the women come to realize that they are much stronger and able to deal with life than the males around them.
        There are parallels and foreshadowing’s here of Fellini, in whose films it is almost always the women who ground their lovers and explore more adventurous worlds than the males to whom they are linked. One need only think of Giulietta Masina in his Juliet of the Spirits.
        The woman from Rome finally gets what she wants, a fine new salon, after which quickly returns hikes back for where she’s come. Neme is offered a show of her ceramics in the US. Momina, a strong and dominant woman, will clearly survive. Only Rosetta, the previous survivor, cannot assimilate her mistakes and finally succeeds in committing suicide, and it appears that Clelia alone truly cares about the young woman in the next room who has died. Unfortunately, the ever-flirtatious Mariella must still come to terms with the truth.  
Los Angeles, December 2, 2019
Reprinted from World Cinema Review (December 2019),

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