WHITE NIGHTS (LE NOTTI BLANCHE) (director/writer: Luchino Visconti; screenwriters: Suso Cecchi D'Amico/from the novel White Nights by Fyodor Dostoyevsky; cinematographer: Giuseppe Rotunno; editor: Mario Serandrei; music: Nino Rota; cast: Marcelo Mastroianni (Mario), Maria Schell (Natalia), Jean Marais (Lodger), Clara Calamai (Prostitute), Marcella Rovena (Housewife), Maria Zanoli (Housekeeper); Runtime: 101; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Franco Cristaldi; The Criterion Collection; 1957-Italy-in Italian with English subtitles)

"My favorite Visconti film."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The visually stunning black and white film by Luchino Visconti ("Ossessione"/"Rocco and His Brothers"/"Bellissima") won Best Film at the Venice Film Festival in 1957. Visconti and co-writer Suso Cecchi D'Amico adapt it from the 1848 short story by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, changing the setting from St. Petersburg to Italy's modern-day Livorno. Visconti filmed the Tuscan city entirely in the studio. It was filmed again in 1960 by the Russian Ivan Pyryev, where it's set in 19th century Russia. In 1971 French director Bresson filmed it with a modern-day Paris setting as Four Nights of a Dream. It's about dreamers and how some dreams come true but some turn into nightmares. It tells about self-delusion, and how people get trapped in living in a fantasy world or a world of cold reality and can't adjust to live in both worlds. It marks Visconti veering away from making a pic that's entirely neo-realistic, as he added many splendid fantasy scenes. Visconti became known for his later films that mixed neo-realism with colorful opera-house styling.

White Nights takes place over a period of four winter nights, and feels claustrophobic as the same Esso gas station, cafe and canal bridge is shown.

The shy ordinary guy, Mario (Marcelo Mastroianni), has been relocated to Livorno for his job as a clerk for the last two weeks and is lonely. Returning late at night by bus from a day country outing with his boring but nice guy supervisor's family, he ventures to the nearby bridge canal and makes conversation with an attractive woman crying and tries to cheer her up. He learns she lives on one side of the bridge where everything is quiet and old-fashioned, while he lives on the other side of the bridge that is brimming with crowded city life, neon lit night life, shops, movie houses and cafes. The girl fails to keep her date at the bridge the next night, but they have another chance encounter and she tells him why she broke the date by telling her life story. Mario learns she's a foreigner, of Slavic descent, named Natalia (Maria Schell), whose only family member is a nearly blind grandmother who raised her and since her rug merchant husband died now repairs rugs with the help of an elderly worker and is cared for by a live-in housekeeper. To bring in more money, granny rents to a mysterious handsome lodger (Jean Marais) whom Natalia falls in love with. He has left a year ago and promises to return to her, but has left her heartbroken by not keeping his promise. In the meantime Mario has fallen in love with Natalia, and the two lonely hearts seem to be getting on though their head trips greatly differ. The most lively scene has the couple stumble into a nightclub and after watching the young folks dancing to Bill Haley and the Comets' rock song "Thirteen Women," join the dancers on the crowded dance floor.

When it looks like Mario has won over the hysterical and not so innocent Natalia and they are getting emotionally close while in a borrowed rowing boat at night and are cheered by a sudden snow shower, the lodger returns and with a chill in the air Natalia abandons Mario. In the last scene, a heartbroken Mario walks alone on the same empty streets by the gas station as in the opening scene and pets the same stray dog and looks all the worse for his entanglement with impossible love.

This was my favorite Visconti film.

REVIEWED ON 4/11/2013       GRADE: A

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"