Ranking: #48/111

Director: Michelangelo Antonioni (Italy)

Genre: Social Drama

This is a magnificent social drama by Michelangelo Antonioni, the master of what is sometimes called “interior realism”, by which is meant a shift away from the school of Italian Neo Realism towards a psychological focus on what is happening inside the characters, and not just around them.  Antonioni also shifted focus from the working class to the middle and upper classes of society in his work.

What I love about this black-and-white post-modern drama is the director’s treatment of the dynamics of the interrelationships of a group of girlfriends and the men their lives. “I like the complexities of a group relationship, the mixing together of different personalities, the coming and going of people,” the director once wrote (Antonioni, M, 1996.  The Architecture of Vision – Writings and Interviews on Cinema, p. 191).

The film is an adaption of Cesare Pavese’s 1949 novella Tra Donne Sole (“Only Among Women”), portraying a group of five upper-class women in Turin in the 1950s.

After a lovely panoramic opening shot of Turin, the drama immediately takes a dark turn when a young woman is discovered in her hotel room after a failed suicide attempt. This woman, who is called Rosetta, had taken a bunch of sleeping pills. We know immediately that we’re on the familiar ground of the existential themes so typical of Antonioni’s movies. They all explore, in urban settings the loneliness, isolation and alienation of post-modern Western individualism (“few people can really be happy on their own”).

One of the narrative threads in the film involves discovering Rosetta reached such a point of despair. It turns out that she is in a relationship with a man, a failed artist called Lorenzo, who is in love with another woman, Nene. The real problem is that he believes he doesn’t really need other people. Rosetta included.

By the end of the movie, a delightfully complex plot, showing the interplay of different and, at times, difficult, personalities, as they share social life together, has yielded a critique of a shallow society. One in which people can’t connect at a deep, human level anymore. The theme of the loneliness of modern life is graphically represented by the shot of Rosetta’s body being retrieved from the Po River where she drowned herself after being callously rejected by Lorenzo. This time, her suicide attempt succeeded.

Le Amiche is a fine, humanist study, with existentialist overtones, of life in the new Italy which has recovered materially from the devastation of World War 2 but which hasn’t yet found its moral compass for the future.

The interactions between the characters are depicted with visceral emotional intensity. The cast all deliver their characterisations in credible ways. As is typical of Antonioni’s existential dramas, they are shown living out their lives in various settings, both interior and exterior, which seem impervious to their fortunes and misfortunes.

Blending convincing acting to achieve “interior realism”, with his usual visually striking photography, while sustaining a strong narrative that communicates his themes about failing human relationships, Antonioni has created a major post-modern work of film art.  In so doing, he moved Italian and European cinema on from its era of Neo Realism.