Le Amiche ★★★½

One question I had while watching this is “how different is Antonioni’s melodrama from others at the time?” It can be easy to watch the film and suggest that it was a breakthrough compared to the neo-realist visions of the poor, but seeing what was being made in France (Becker, Ophuls, and other “Old” French Wavers), I have a feeling that Le Amiche might not be as bold as it seems to an outsider than those who really know their 1950s Italian cinema (it won the Silver Lion at Venice, but hard to say if that’s endorsement of a breakthrough or tradition).

Leave that for further investigation, because this is a largely pleasurable melodrama that plays on the themes of class and love that Antonioni would make more obscure and refracted, yet all the more pertinent, in L’Avventura (more on that later this week). The camera swirls around its characters as they move from one lover to the next, only Rosetta seems unaware it’s all a game. The film’s odd structure is bold – begins with an outsider who is swept into the game (same as L’Avventura, as well as Rosetta’s unexplained but clearly explained suicide attempt, and then moves through something that feels tangential but slowly reveals itself to be quite classical as it ties its threads. As Bordwell explains here, the early Antonioni is much more about staging and deep focus, always seducing us with his placement of characters as his camera reorients. Most of this is pretty economical (not a bad thing, as always), and he gets at least one really interesting moment where Celia and Carlo romanticize a romantic past they could have had against a very neo-realist concrete wall (she is nostalgic past for even the worst years than the artifice of the upper society of Turin). Not exactly subtle on its thematic material, and maybe not as funny as the Film Forum audience thought it was (it’s more of a sly and morbid funny that the “howls” they gave it), but a curious and highly pleasurable early work.