Today: April 18, 2024

Michelangelo Antonioni Releases

As part of their ‘Masters Of Cinema’, Eureka has recently
re-released two of Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni’s middle
period films: Le Amiche (The Girlfriends) and La Signora senza Camelie
(The Lady without Camelias).

Antonioni is more famous for his daring work of the 1960s, but the
two films selected by Eureka are no less important, and gives the viewer
insight into his early exploration of themes for which he has become so
well known for.

Neorealism was the order of the day in post-World War II Italy, and
it was on these films that Antonioni learned his trade. These films
often used untrained performers and aimed for spontaneous performances,
indicative of authentic emotional reality. The focus was generally on
the poor and the suffering and hardship they endured – and caused others
– in their efforts to survive.

Antonioni began working in this vein, and started out as a
documentary-maker, focusing on the rural poor in the Po valley, but he
switched to fiction, and La Amiche and La Signora senza Camelie are an
important stage in his transition away from neorealism.

Antonioni is famous for the attention he paid to the inner lives of
the middle class, where despite the beautiful clothes and fancy parties,
life is empty and meaningless. Le Amiche, which means ‘The Girlfriends’
focuses on a bourgeois circle in Turin, rocked by a friend’s attempted
suicide. The title is largely ironic though: while expressing
friendship, the women in this film are so alienated from themselves,
they cannot even hope to make true connections with each other. They
pose and pout and pretend to have fun, but they know, even if they
cannot act on it, that they are unhappy.

In a way, this is a feminist film: the women are, of course, confined
by society’s expectations of women, but Antonioni also grants them a
large degree of autonomy. Matriach Momeina lives apart from her unseen
husband by mutual consent and lives a life of fun, carrying on affairs
with men and generally running the lives of her female proteges. Clelia,
the protagonist, chooses her career over her love, and artists Nene has
to deal with the impact of her successful career on her husband. These
are situations and circumstances very much alive today, and while
Antonioni leaves most of the characters looking slightly absurd, he
allows his women a strength that would have been almost unheard of at
the time.

In truth, the lesson the characters invariably learn is that love is
not the panacea women thought it to be; he takes the fairy tale of the
handsome prince away, and lets women make their own way in the world.
For all of the faults of Antonioni’s characters, they are individuals in
the world, making their own mistakes and trying to survive.

But Antonioni was also concerned with politics, with identity and
with peoples’ attempts to fit themselves into the modern, mechanized
world. At the heart of this struggle, Antonioni finds alienation, with
individuals clutching on to what remains of their distinct identity.

La Signora senza Camelie is the story of a shopclerk Clara (Lucia
Bose), who after a chance casting in a small movie, finds herself
becoming a full-blown movie star. After success in a number of sexually
charged comedies, her husband forces her into a production of Joan of
Arc, in an effort to make a ‘serious’ actress out of her. Lampooned by
the critics, Clara’s dignity and very identity are thrown into question.
The idea of the performance – most obvious in actors and actresses, but
a part of us all – is a theme Antonioni returns to again and again, and
his treatment of the space in between reality and fiction, truth and
performance receives masterful treatment in Camelie.

The true strength of Antonioni’s work is that it is still relevant
today. Despite being in black and white, and with subtitles, his films
are captivating, sensitively shot, and always rewarding to watch. Eureka
has done film lovers a great service by reminding us of these early
works by a great master.

Each film has been remastered for DVD & Blu-ray.

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