Friday, June 18, 2010

Antonioni’s Le Amiche

For two-faced cattiness and cold-blooded sexual manipulation of the dumber sex, these women from Turin make the promiscuous characters of Sex and the City look pale and dull in comparison. Though this social drama of stylishly dressed and sharply tongued women among women has been largely overlooked amidst Italian auteur Michelangelo Antonioni’s celebrated oeuvre, cineastes have an opportunity to revisit it today with the start of a special one week engagement of Antonioni’s Le Amiche in a newly restored 35M print at New York’s Film Forum.

Love is for suckers, like the men of Le Amiche. The women find it a pleasant distraction, but not essential—except perhaps Rosetta. As the film opens, she has made an unsuccessful suicide attempt with sleeping pills. Momina, the de facto leader of her clique of frenemies suspects it had something to do with a man. She even has an idea who it might be: Lorenzo, the failed artist husband of their mutual ostensive friend Nene.

With Rosetta’s survival, a new-comer enters their group. Returning to her native Turin to open a fashion salon, Clelia happened to be in the hotel room next to Rosetta on that fateful day, intervening with Momina. Making fast friends with the glamorous woman, she gets a direct line into Turin’s smart set. Watch out for those claws though.

As for the men, they are not a particularly impressive lot—except perhaps Carlo, a contractor working for Clelia’s architect, Cesare Pedoni, with whom the fashionista develops a flirtatious relationship. Already showing Marxist tendencies, Antonioni infuses the film with an unmistakable class consciousness. Indeed, aside from the salt-of-the-earth workingman, Amiche’s men are mostly weak bourgeoisie twits, like the insecure Lorenzo and Momina’s easily played lover, Pedoni.

Compared to Antonioni’s later work and especially to the films he would inspire, Amiche is rather conventional in its narrative, structure, and pacing. However, it foreshadows the themes and milieu of his great masterworks. Still, the real satisfaction of the film is simply watching its talented cast dig into the cutting dialogue, energizing the distinctly continental melodrama.

A true movie star in Italy, Eleonora Rossi Drago is the picture of elegance as Clelia, compellingly evoking the emotional reality of a lifetime of trade-offs, while still serving as the conscience of the picture. In contrast, French actress Yvonne Furneaux (the long-suffering fiancé in La Dolce Vita) plays the biting Momina with relish. There is a word for her character and it rhymes with the American pronunciation of Amiche.

As a successful transitional work for Antonioni, Amiche is a film of significant importance. It is also a pleasure in its own right. A fine, dry wine well-worth tasting, the newly restored Amiche opens today (6/18) in New York at Film Forum.