Image Entertainment presents
Le Amiche (The Girlfriends) (1955)
"Why go on living? So I can decide what dress to wear?"- Rosetta (Madeleine Fischer)
Stars: Eleonora Rossi Drago, Gabriele Ferzetti, Valentina Cortese, Yvonne Furneaux
Other Stars: Franco Fabrizi, Madeleine Fischer, Anna Maria Pancani, Ettore Mani
Director: Michelangelo Antonioni
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (attempted suicide and a reference to a suicide)
Run Time: 01h:38m:58s
Release Date: 2001-08-07
DVD ReviewItalian director Michelangelo Antonioni is most famous for his excellent films L'Avventura, Blow-Up, and Zabriskie Point, but the fame of those movies belies the fact that most of his other films are just as accomplished and intoxicating as their more famous counterparts. Films such as La Notte and Red Desert are also cinematic gems that examine Antonioni's perennial themes of alienation and relationship disintegration, subjects that are also evident in his earlier films, especially Le Amiche (The Girlfriends). While not his first outing, Le Amiche was his first great film, and it would set the standard for all of his later work, both thematically and in terms of his cinematic style.
The film opens with Clelia (Eleonora Rossi Drago), a manager for a clothing company in Rome, who, while staying in a hotel in Turin, finds a woman unconscious in one of the rooms. She calls the hospital, and they take her away. The girl is Rosetta (Madeleine Fischer), who keeps company with a group of socialite women. In the aftermath of what we find out to be Rosetta's attempted suicide, Clelia meets Momina (Yvonne Furneaux), who brings Clelia into the same socialite group. Meanwhile, Clelia is in Turin to open her company's newest store there, but the work on the building is behind schedule. While trying to get the architect to hurry up, she meets his assistant, Carlo, and they begin to form a relationship. Soon Clelia begins to realize how shallow and petulant her new friends are, and how their frivolous attitudes towards relationships and sex could come back to hurt them. Mix this in with her struggle between being a working woman and being with Carlo, and you have the general plot.
The real achievement of Le Amiche might be the deftness with which Antonioni handles the stories of eight different characters. He allows the story to unfold, instead of artificially trying to introduce all the characters; we follow one character until he or she meets another character that is involved in the story. While this does mean that one or two characters seem to come out of the blue (Clelia's employer does not exist until the third act, and another girl appears in one scene with the architect, and later becomes part of the socialite group), it also makes the audience feel like we're in Clelia's position, so we immediately identify with her. Once all the characters are introduced, Antonioni cuts back and forth between different storylines, and it never feels like a particular character is neglected: it always seems as if the scene currently on the screen is exactly what the audience should be seeing. At no time do you wish you were seeing one of the other characters.
The movie is also incredibly forward-looking in its scope. For example, Clelia is a strong-willed working woman in a time when such a thing was extremely rare (at least in America; Italy may have been more liberal). Not only that, some of the girls come off like the cast of Sex And The City (although less cloyingly metropolitan). In a time when younger American's notions of the 1950s are colored by The Wonder Years and old propagandistic advertisements from the period, Le Amiche comes across as thoroughly modern and way ahead of its time.
More so than any of Antonioni's other films, Le Amiche seems to have a humanistic bent. Oh, sure, there's plenty of backstabbing and philandering, but in the center of it all stands Clelia, who is like a beacon shining through the darkness created by the other characters. The director would later abandon such clear-cut characters (although Monica Vitti's character in L'Avventura seems somewhat similar to Clelia, she is not as clear-cut nor as strong-willed), but it seems to work in the film's favor this time. Without at least one character to say what's right, the movie would be unbearably depressing and would quickly become the story of people wallowing in their own misery (something that Antonioni actually manages to avoid in his later films, even though that seems to be what they're all about).
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-
|Aspect Ratio||1.33:1 - Full Frame|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: As I was reviewing this disc, my father walked in and sat down. He watched the movie intently for several minutes, and then he asked me when the film was made. I told him it was made in 1955. All he could say was, "Wow." And that is a perfect way to describe the transfer that Image has given us. It looks pristine. Oh sure, there are a couple of scratches, some lines that appear from time to time, and every so often an actor's face will be lit too harshly, but ninety percent of the time, the print looks crystal clear. This actually looks better than Criterion's transfer for L'Avventura. Buy this disc and prepare to be amazed.
Image Transfer Grade: A
Audio Transfer Review: And again, prepare to be amazed. Le Amiche has the best mono track I've ever heard. When a character talks, you can hear everything being said (of course, since most people will be reading subtitles, it won't make much difference anyway, but it's nice to know it's so well-rendered). When no one is speaking, and there are no ambient effects, there is complete silence. No hissing, no noises other than what the director wanted you to hear.
Audio Transfer Grade: A
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Layers Switch: n/a
Extras Review: No extras at all. None. Just 12 chapter stops (far too few). Makes it easy to review, I suppose.
Extras Grade: F
Final CommentsAntonioni's first fully-realized film, and harbinger of his entire body of work to follow, Le Amiche is interesting as a cinematic study and entertaining as a story. Looking back on it 46 years on, the film seems not only fresh, but also forward-looking and right in sync with the rhetoric of the times.
Daniel Hirshleifer 2001-09-26