‘Le Amiche’ or — Space Invaders?
Before I dive into Antonioni’s ‘Le Amiche’ (1955) it would be handy for me to clearly define some of the highly technical language associated with the famous Italian director’s style for anybody unfamiliar with his work. This will help to provide a deeper and more nuanced understanding of this most challenging of filmmakers. So may I present -
AN ANTONIONI GLOSSARY!
1/ ‘Alienation’ — The film is going to be really boring.
2/ ‘Chiaroscuro’ — The film is going to be really boring but you’ll notice that the cinematography is nice but purely because there’s nothing else worth paying attention to whatsoever.
3/ ‘Ennui’ — Frequently during the movie you’ll severely regret not watching Dean Jones in ‘Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo’ (1977) instead.
4/ ‘Detachment’ — All the characters will be irritating, middle-class assholes with nothing interesting to say in the slightest.
5/ ‘An Architectural Style’ — The film contains lots of shots of panes of glass and windows. Hardly ANY dogs.
6/ ‘Elliptical’ — It’s going to be insufferably annoying.
‘Le Amiche’ contains all of the above and the result is easily one of the most profoundly tedious Italian movies I’ve ever witnessed… and I watch Visconti! This is an almost unbearable slog with every single scene, every FRAME, dragging on with all the breezy lightness of a concrete slab scraped across tarmac meaning there wasn’t a single second when my finger wasn’t fluttering over my remote control whilst every nerve in my entire body twitched with the desire to turn the movie off. So why didn’t I?
‘Le Amiche’, or ‘The Girlfriends’, concerns Clelia (Eleonora Rossi Drago) who returns to Turin from Rome in order to open a high-end fashion salon and how she navigates the insular world of her four wealthy friends — Momina, Nene, Rosetta and Mariella — and their various lovers. Chances are this group of friends aren’t a barrel of laughs because at the start we discover Rosetta has attempt to kill herself (after having sat through this movie I don’t blame her) and this won’t be the last time either because despite the pristine and precise architectural spaces here the psychological spaces within this group are those of a cesspit.
And so we observe Clelia and her friends er… exist? Wander about? I don’t know. Certainly nothing of any actual interest (it’s like watching a melodrama with all the drama extracted), and it’s all deliberate on Antonioni’s part which just makes it all even more infuriating. This is INTENTIONAL?! So, again, why didn’t I turn it off?
Possibly because the film’s control, composition, camera moves, lighting, set design, costumes, editing, sound design — in effect, everything apart from the dialogue, characters and story — are all gloriously exquisite! There’s some incredibly phenomenal shit going on here. So you’ll be watching a particularly boring conversation between two idiots that drags on for an eternity when you’ll be hit by the gradual, dawning realisation that you’re actually watching something that profoundly mind-blowing. The control and style is unbelievable!
Also, it’s not really about the girlfriend’s lives or interior emotions but more, literally, observing how they move as a group comprised of individual elements capable of many combinations and formations in space and time (it’s like watching a group organism). At one point they enter a workshop and apologise to the worker for “invading his space”. Yet this isn’t just a figure of speech because that is explicitly what they have done (pretty much ALL they do throughout this film is banging about invading various people’s spaces) and what we’re called to focus our attention on.
It’s not just space that’s carefully crafted but also the sound. ‘Le Amiche’ initially appears quite sonically barren with only a few soft notes or passages of music lightly played at infrequent intervals, yet as the film develops you start to notice these musical themes are often quietly, yet furiously, battling and fighting each other. It’s intricately constructed and so refined it’s practically unnoticeable, which is the way it should be I guess.
‘Le Amiche’ is a visually and sonically impressive piece of masterful filmmaking but you have to work SO hard, exert SO much patience that I frequently felt like throwing in the towel. Yet what’s even more exasperating is that every time I was about to do so Antonioni would immediately pull off something genuinely spectacular that would keep me watching. Gaah! Talk about a tease!
Still, this is a fascinating, thoughtful, disturbing and complex movie made at a very interesting point in Italian cinema. At one point a man asks a woman “Why do you love me?” to which she replies “Perhaps because you make me suffer so.”
That sums up my feelings about ‘Le Amiche’ perfectly.