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May 2011

Le Amiche

cast: Eleonora Rossi Drago, Yvonne Furneaux, Valentina Cortese, Madeleine Fischer, and Anna Maria Pancani

director: Michelangelo Antonioni

104 minutes (PG) 1955
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Eureka DVD Region 2

RATING: 8/10
review by Max Cairnduff

Le Amiche

Le Amiche (aka: The Girlfriends) is a black and white Italian language film (with English subtitles) about the lives and loves of five women in Turin. It doesn't sound that interesting put like that does it? That's the thing with synopses, they can conceal as much as they reveal. Le Amiche is also supremely well shot, has a uniformly excellent cast, skilfully written characters and an involving plot. It works both as drama, and as art, and I found myself at times barely noticing the subtleties of the direction because I was so engaged by the story. I wouldn't quite call it a masterpiece, but I can see why some might argue with me on the point.

Clelia (Eleonora Rossi Drago) has returned from Rome to her native Turin. She is opening a couture dress shop and is keen to ensure everything goes smoothly. At her hotel she becomes involved with an attempted suicide by Rosetta (Madeleine Fischer) and so meets Rosetta's friend Momina (Yvonne Furneaux). Momina is a wealthy and attractive woman and the centre of a group of friends which she promptly makes Clelia a part of. The others in Momina's circle are the beautiful and flighty young Mariella (Anna Maria Pancani) and the increasingly successful artist Nene (Valentina Cortese).

What follows is in some senses a melodrama. Nene's career is eclipsing her husband. Unable to cope he is having an affair with Rosetta. Momina is separated from her husband and sleeping with a handsome and urbane architect, Lorenzo (Gabriele Ferzetti), but he's not above nipping off into the bushes with Mariella during a group trip to the seaside. Meanwhile Clelia is increasingly interested in Lorenzo's assistant Carlo (Ettore Manni) but they're of very different social classes and it's far from clear if they can overcome that.

That's a lot for one film but, with a cast this talented, Michelangelo Antonioni manages to explore each of their stories and, in doing so, has some interesting things to say about the problems facing contemporary women (much of it still pretty relevant). Although serious points are being made here the film is never didactic or maudlin. The film is also a sheer pleasure to watch. Antonioni takes huge care in composing his scenes and he knows how to say as much with the placement of characters in a room or the framing of an actress against a doorway as any of them say with dialogue or a glance.

Antonioni went on to make far better known films: L'avventura, La Notte, Blow-Up, Zabriskie Point, to name just a few. This is an earlier work, and while he's already left behind neo-realism with its focus on the lives of ordinary working class people, he's not yet adopted the sparse cinematic style which would characterise much of his later output. The result is a brilliant blending of formal cinematic structure and character-driven drama, and a film which can easily be enjoyed on a number of levels (and on more than one viewing).

Le Amiche absolutely justifies the evident care that's gone into this Cineteca di Bologna restoration. The print is clean and bright, and the sound is crisp. Masters of cinema continues to be a label to watch for fans of cinema as art, and with this release they're doing a real service in bringing back some genuinely classic cinema.

The DVD release of Le Amiche comes with two featurettes by critic Gabe Klinger discussing respectively the film itself and Antonioni's wider career (neither of which I found especially enlightening), and a booklet with articles and features about the film. It's a dual-format release and so comes both in DVD form and blu-ray.



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