Le Amiche (Michelangelo Antonioni / Italy, 1955):
(The Girlfriends)

Michelangelo Antonioni opens with a nod to his L'Amore in Cittą segment, another tentato suicido: Eleonora Rossi Drago, transplanted from Rome to Turin for the opening of her fashion salon, finds Madeleine Fischer stuffed with sleeping pills in the adjoining hotel room. The incident catapults the mink-shrouded heroine into the orbit of a Cukorian socialite circle reigned over by Yvonne Furneaux, whose moneyed cattiness leaves her with little better to do than snoop around Fischer's dolefulness -- turns out she's involved with Gabriele Ferzetti, the artist husband of anxious group member Valentina Cortese, although, having reached the point where life has been reduced to which dress to wear, all she wants is to "wipe out all my traces." Meanwhile, Drago drops by her childhood courtyard (nostalgia for vanishing, life-worn environment that mirrors the director's) and ponders a romance with working-class architect Ettore Manni, her self-searching setting up psychological barriers. The abundance of narrative betrays literary origins (Cesare Pavese's Tra Donne Sole, adapted with Suso Cecchi d'Amico), but this is one of the maestro's pre-L'Avventura masterpieces, a fluid camera framing and reframing the garrulous characters, tracking emotional energy that's later to seep out and turn atrophied. Of course, the filmmaker's pensiveness already has roots, notably in Drago's elegantly wounded outsider and in Fischer's suicidal model, who yearns to disappear -- templates for Vitti and Massari in the 1960 landmark, still grounded in the hope of connection to other people and the world around them. Less purposely oppressive than in his epochal works, Antonioni's quicksilver camera pierces character via gesture and movement, a behavior-snatching medium-shot tracking from viewpoint to viewpoint at a gray-overcast beach outing, sliding from a couple rolling in the sand to a Marilynesque blonde's thoughtlessly cruel remark and a face sketched on a matchbox. Where the luxurious mannequins of the future suffer from their inability to feel, the characters' agony here derives no less painfully from an emotional surplus, ending on a missed date just as tragic as the one desolatingly closing L'Eclisse. With Franco Fabrizi, Anna Maria Pancari, and Luciano Volpato. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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