DENNIS SCHWARTZ 
IS THERE ANY GOOD 
IN SAYING 
EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?

 
LE AMICHE (THE GIRLFRIENDS) (director/writer: Michelangelo Antonioni; screenwriters: From the story Tre Donne Sole by Cesare Pavese/ Suso Cecchi D'Amico/Alba De Cespedes; cinematographer: Gianni Di Venanzo; editor: Eraldo Da Roma; music: Giovanni Fusco; cast: Eleonora Rossi-Drago (Clelia), Gabriele Ferzetti (Lorenzo), Valentina Cortese (Nene), Yvonne Furneaux (Momina De Stefani), Maria Gambarelli (Clelia's employer), Franco Fabrizi (Cesare Pedoni, the architect), Madeleine Fischer (Rosetta Savoni), Anna Maria Pancani (Mariella), Ettore Manni (Carlo); Runtime: 99; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Giovanni Addessi; Image Entertainment; 1955-Italy-in Italian with English subtitles)

 
"Antonioni does a strong job deftly directing the intense multi-layered psychological melodrama."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Michelangelo Antonioni's ("Blow Up"/"Beyond the Clouds") fourth feature is a gem. It is based on a novel by the socialist poet Cesare Pavese and it dramatically explores women's evolving role in modern society and the conflict between love and career. It's filmed in the director's native Turin.

Clelia (Eleonora Rossi-Drago) is a beautiful young woman who returns to her native Turin from Rome as a success after her poor start in life. She has landed her dream job to manage a glamorous Italian fashion salon that the parent company in Rome is opening. On her first night back in Turin the young woman in the hotel room next to her, Rosetta Savoni (Madeleine Fischer), hired to be a salesgirl, has taken an overdose of pills in an attempted suicide. Rosetta recovers and Clelia gets entangled in the lives of the girl's wealthy and troubled socialite friends--Momina (Yvonne Furneaux), Nene (Valentina Cortese), and Mariella (Anna Maria Pancani). 

The leader of Clelia's new women friends is the superficial and hypocritical Momina De Stefani, who is estranged from her wealthy husband and takes on a series of lovers in the luxurious Turin apartment her hubby gave her. Momina's current lover becomes Cesare Pedoni (Franco Fabrizi), the stylish architect of Clelia's salon. 

Of the other new friends of Clelia's, Mariella is a bubbly, self-absorbed soul only interested in her own pleasure.  Nene is a serious-minded, talented and successful ceramic artist who has recently married an unsuccessful portrait artist Lorenzo (Gabriele Ferzetti), whose latest work is the portrait of Rosetta. It's learned that before her suicide attempt, Rosetta was trying to call Lorenzo. When Clelia questions Rosetta about her suicide, she responds: "Why go on living? So I can decide what dress to wear?" Later it's learned that she has fallen in love with Lorenzo and hopes to steal him away from her friend. Momina at one point sharply comments about the disparity between Nene and Lorenzo by telling Clelia: "A woman with more talent than her man is unfortunate." Which becomes the reason she doesn't feel guilty encouraging Rosetta to steal Lorenzo away. 

In the meantime Clelia is attracted to the hunky assistant architect Carlo (Ettore Manni) who was hired to get her salon ready, whose only drawback for her is that he's an impoverished member of the working-class and doesn't travel in the same fancy circles that she does--which gets the nasty gossips to chatter amongst themselves. Their romance gives Clelia comfort but increasingly it becomes apparent they have different tastes and there are too many social barriers between them. Though the wealthy and snobbish circle that Clelia travels in leaves a bitter taste in her mouth as she tires of its shallowness and cruelty to others, she nevertheless tries desperately to fit in remembering how she worked hard to raise herself to this level of being an equal. 

Warning: spoiler in the next paragraph.

But when a series of events leads to the real suicide of the jilted Rosetta, Clelia returns to Rome and tells the sincere Carlo that it wasn't meant for them--that they are now too old and have become too set in their ways to change, but things would have been different if they met when growing up.

This rarely seen film is now on DVD and well-worth seeking out. Antonioni does a strong job deftly directing the intense multi-layered psychological melodrama. The characterizations are richly drawn out and the performances are first-class. Surprisingly, considering the feminism theme derived from the 1950s, the film hardly seems dated.

REVIEWED ON 4/16/2004        GRADE: A

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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