Get Ready for the Antoniennui

06/16/2010 4:00 AM |

Le Amiche (1955)
Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni

Five years before L’Avventura made him a belated splash at Cannes at age 47, Michelangelo Antonioni directed his fourth feature, Le Amiche, a melodrama about friendship among women. Conventional wisdom holds that Le Amiche is caught halfway between Italian neorealism and fully formed Antoniennui, but you’d never guess it from what’s on the screen. Which is another way of saying: If Le Amiche had been made by a lesser artist—and not the guy who went on to do L’Eclisse, Red Desert, Blow-Up, and The Passenger—then Film Forum’s welcome restoration might be received as a lost postwar masterpiece rather than an apprenticeship curio.

Ingrid Bergman lookalike Eleonora Rossi-Drago, the manager of an haute boutique in Rome, returns to her native Turino to supervise the construction of a new store. In her off hours, she’s drawn into a circle of disaffected ladies led by snarky queen bee Yvonne Furneaux. She’s also wooed by her contractor’s assistant, a blue-collar mensch who embodies the life she could have chosen instead of a career.

Le Amiche is mostly remembered for an ensemble set-piece on the beach that presages L’Avventura. But from an early scene where a bare lightbulb serves as both prop and light source, to a final act digression in which our heroine gets inadvertently cruised, the film acts as a showcase for the Maestro’s novelistic camera, as well as his appetite for alienation. Mood trumps meaning, while the landscape, as Antonioni shoots it, appears to constrict his figures. A great malaise is nigh.

June 18-24 at Film Forum