Thursday, 31 January 2019

Blood and water... Mother (1926) with Lillian Henley, Kennington Bioscope

“Mother is a moving picture in every sense, here is a film that stands up as well as when it was made in 1926…” Kevin Brownlow

Lillian Henley hadn’t even seen this film and yet she was on a roll of revolutionary rhythms and, sat towards the Bioscope piano’s deeper notes, created a patient mix of Russo-romantic dynamics that fitted the narrative like Comrade Trotsky’s best winter coat. I had seen Mother before but this once again showed how the connection between accompanist and film can make for such a varied experience.  Lillian’s experience as an actress sometimes gives her a different take on accompaniment and here she was almost taking a cinematic stroll hand-in-hand with Vsevolod Pudovkin’s tale…. We are so blessed with such a diverse range of styles and whilst I’d really enjoyed Stephen Horne and Martin Pyne accompanying at the Barbican this was a different and none-the-less expressive performance.

Mother was introduced by Kevin Brownlow who having brought his own 16mm copy of the film, explained how the director, in his opinion and that of many others, stood alongside Eisenstein and Alexander Dovzhenko as the leading lights of Soviet cinema.

Pudovkin dropped his university science studies after he saw Intolerance and resolved to make films. He used actors in a Stanislavski style and not just non-actors cast for type as with Eisenstein and the star here is the theatrically-trained Vera Baranovskaya, one of Stanislovski’s favourite actors, and it’s easy to see why with a performance of controlled depth and intensity,

Vera Baranovskaya
Pudovkin acknowledged Griffith as his master and yet his work bears similarities to Abel Gance, whose La Roue he was very influenced by. He talked of producing “a plastic synthesis through editing…” and, for example, instead of showed a prisoner’s joy at release he focused on the nervous play of his hands and the corners of his smile cut with a flowing stream and a child’s joy… “photographing thought” in a very Gance-an way. Brownlow praised his lightness of touch in the film and use of landscape and nature all of which make for “an exhilarating experience” in his view. Tonight’s audience wasn’t going to disagree.

Mother was banned in Russia, even though set in 1906 it was perhaps too anti-authoritarian… and could only be seen in private showings. Overseas, the strike certainly made it a no-no for many westerners. It was banned in the UK because it showed strikers where to hide weapons… under the floor-boards lads! They’ll never spot it there!! Nice to know we haven’t changed.

Pudovkin later made Chess Fever and Storm Over Asia which he regretted as it showed the English, who he liked, in a bad light. Ah well, at least we had friends once…

Aleksandr Chistyakov
But this film is all the more powerful for being focused on a single family and, especially, the relationship between a mother Pelageya Vlasova (Baranovskaya) and her son, Pavel Vlasov played by Nikolai Batalov one of the most frequently seen actors in soviet film. Based on the 1906 novel The Mother by Maxim Gorky and bears similarities to the Bloody Sunday attrocities in which the imperial guard were ordered to open fire on a demonstration in St Petersberg in January 1905. That event led to long-term consequences yet this film is not a simplistic take on revolutionary innocence versus black-hearted oppression but a tragic story of a nation undermined by a careless, fatal, malaise.

Pelageya is married to an abusive alcoholic husband Vlasov (Aleksandr Chistyakov), a man who would steal even the family iron if it would get him another vodka. He lashes out at his wife and slaps down their son, Pavel as he comes to her aid.

He is a sad sack of a man who has been defeated by life and in the local tavern he’s an easy mark for a group of men looking for a patsy to help them break an impending strike. The problem is that Pavel is one of the groups organising the action. He meets a girl, Anna (Anna Zemtsova) who hands him a package, he goes home and hides it disturbing his sleeping mother just enough for her to see what he is doing.

Nikolai Batalov 
Come the day of the strike, Pavel and his group are ambushed at the gates of the factory and badly beaten. Pavel and a pal are chased into the tavern, yet whilst Pabvel makes good his escape his mate is grabbed by the inn-keeper. In the melee his gun is fired and Vlasov is shot dead.

Our sympathy shifts as the insurgent's mother becomes a widow, staring in vacant horror as her husband is carried lifeless into their rooms. Before long she has discovered what Pavel was hiding, a collection of firearms, and honest citizen that she is, believes the policeman when he promises that if her son only tells the truth he will be free. But, the family are now involved in the legal machinery of the Tsarist state and all other considerations are discarded as punishment becomes more important than the crime…

 “Righteousness, justice, mercy… “, the tribunal sits lazily on the question of Pavel’s life, more concerned with fine horses than the three words they are supposedly guided by. There will be precious little of any today and Pavel is sentenced to hard labour. Incredulous, his mother begs forgiveness – she had no idea that her faith in authority would be so misguided. But she is not alone and soon there is a plan to free Pavel and other prisoners…

The day of the strike
Now the film shifts tone and pace as the director drives on towards the family’s ultimate betrayal by their country in an ending possibly inspired by a smuggled copy of East is East. The use of montage is mesmeric, with repeated shots of partly melted ice on the river being juxtaposed with the movement of people towards the prison and then in aid of the rescue: it’s a relentless flow in both cases and very powerful.

Pudovkiz is so good on the details as well as the scale. As Vlasov’s body lies in death, he focuses on mother, then a dripping tap, then her dead husband, the floorboards, her son and back again: the monotony of grief and despair all contributing the a shattering narrative that Lillian understood so well.

On tonight’s undercard we had Will Rogers in a 1924 short for Hal Roach called Don’t Park There in which our modest hero struggles to find a parking space, yes, even in 1924. Some things never change including John Sweeney’s excellence on accompaniment.

Good to get my Bioscope 2019 underway and the coffee and sausage rolls were also good too!

Monday, 28 January 2019

With friends like these… Le Amiche (1955), BFI

Another dip into Antonioni’s back catalogue and a most surprising, actually quite shocking film. Being more used to the director’s work in which very little can be said to be absolutely certain and in which interpretation is a vital part of the narrative, this film is both more defined in both story and morality. The “friends” in Le Amiche are attached to each other in the most fragile of ways and even love is measured against career opportunity or even pain. When one of the characters asks another why she still loves him she can only respond by saying maybe it’s because he hurts her so much…

This is also one of Antonioni’s most populated films with ten main characters all representing a variety of “friendships” – lovers, marriages of convenience, colleagues, work friends and, people who make you feel better for all the wrong reasons. Still… this world is one we all recognise.

The central character is Clelia (Eleonora Rossi Drago) has come from Rome to open a fashion boutique in her native Turin. As she gets ready in her hotel room, an attempted suicide is uncovered in the neighbouring room, a young woman, Rosetta (Madeleine Fischer) all dressed up with nowhere to go with her broken heart. One of Rosetta’s friends arrives, Momina (Yvonne Furneaux) who carries an air of bourgeoise authority even when she finally discovers what has happened to her friend. Soon she co-opts Clelia into investigating the incident and the latter, being far warmer, is more than willing to help.

Eleonora Rossi Drago and Madeleine Fischer
It’s fascinating to see Clelia at work when she finds the shop far from ready for its opening, whilst she’s met by indifference and sexual curiosity from the workmen – those who aren’t off sick that is – she stands up for herself and insists on speaking to the architect’s assistant, Carlo (Ettore Manni),  who she gets to call his boss in. When Cesare the architect (Franco Fabrizi) arrives, she holds him to agreed timelines and budget in spite of his attempts to gaslight and distract; familiar scenes for anyone who’s commissioned building work but Clelia has strength of character as well as project management discipline.

Clelia joins Momina and her clique on a day out meeting Nene (Valentina Cortese) an artist with more talent than her feckless husband Lorenzo (Gabriele Ferzetti who will later do more of the same in L’Avventura) who painted a portrait of the unfortunate Rosetta who, it transpires, fell in love with him and couldn’t face rejection.

Yvonne Furneaux, Eleonora Rossi Drago Anna Maria Pancani and Valentina Cortese
There’s a lively blonde Mariella (Anna Maria Pancani) who can have all the ones other can’t have (there’s always a Smiths reference…) and who cruelly jokes about Rosetta not even being good enough to finish even the simplest of suicides… Alpha Momina (a new band name right there) slaps her more acting more for affect than in anger and Rosetta chides her for being a hypocrite… you get the feeling that this demi-monde is too tough.

Clelia takes care of Rosetta though and employs her at her salon and she starts to gain in confidence. There are string class lines in this film and Carlo is surprised that Clelia has appointed someone who, literally, doesn’t need to work – he muses on the motivations of someone in that almost unimaginable position (nowadays, as then, they probably end up in finance or politics…).

Gabriele Ferzetti and Valentina Cortese
Meanwhile, Lorenzo becomes more attracted to the young woman, especially after he learns that Nene has been invited to be blatantly more successful than him in New York… is he genuine or is he just trying to reassert his manly mojo? Momina, for whom affairs are like seeing the hairdresser, advises her young charge to grab the bull by the horns and enjoy herself, ignoring the risks and heartbreak this will inevitably bring…

It’s a mad whirl of a film with Clelia at the heart ultimately having to decide if it’s the love of a good if lowly fellow like Carlo or a magnificent career like that of her boss (Maria Gambarelli) she wants. This is where the film is so clever as it confounds our cinematic expectations of “good” and “bad”. Characters behave in unexpected but entirely convincing ways and as the story winds up to its various climaxes, one by one, the leading narratives gently slap us in the face, not for effect perhaps, but more in anger.

Certainly one to see in the BFI’s Antonioni series if youcan - it runs through February - and another nail in the coffin of the “Only good after 1960” mindset I’d once assumed... wrong again Paul, so wrong!

Ettore Manni and Eleonora Rossi Drago

Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Restless legs… Bergman – A Year in a Life (2018), screenings at BFI and across UK from 25th January

Lars von Trier tries to sum Ingmar up with something like “he was a shit but I love him!” and I suppose it takes one to know one. In truth Mr Bergman can certainly be filed in the “complex character” section of cinema genius but that’s a pretty packed category; he was “lonely in his soul” as someone who knew him in later life put it which is an odd thing to say about a father of nine who had many overlapping relationships, married five times and who seems to have slept with every Harriet, Bibi and Liv he ever directed. Fassbender may have been addicted to amphetamines but, it’s claimed, Bergman was hyper-sexual.

More than anything else though it seems that Bergman was exceptionally talented and for this he may be forgiven with the usual caveats. He was incredibly driven and occasionally merciless, in his third theatrical production of The Misanthrope, he ripped into his cast after they had deviated from his direction and singled out up and coming actor/direct Thorsten Flinck for personal humiliation that still brings a tear to this otherwise confident man.

Bibi and Bergman
Bergman admitted that his work came first and, in addition to occasionally losing count of his children, he also confessed to not knowing their birthdays or even birth-years… he had other priorities and in 1957 this saw him release two of his masterworks, The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries as well as a five-hour long theatrical production of Peer Gynt, his first production of The Misanthrope, and two radio plays, oh and he also wrote the script for Lars-Eric Kjellgren’s Night Light. His quality of output was unfeasibly high and he established himself as a world figure who would gain an almost untouchable rank in his home country and beyond.

Excerpts from a 1971 interview with US talk-show legend Dick Cavett are shown in which the still sprightly Cavett describes how nervous he was with the great man, so much so that he called him “Ingrid”… he can laugh about it now, just about.

Elliott Gould is effusive in his description of Bergman’s direction, saying he was a director who put so much trust in his performers telling Gould that “I will never mislead you”… Barbra Streisand, then in a power coupling with Elliott, watched with awe. Liv Ullman, one of Ingmar’s wives who I refuse to believe is 80,  describes the director as her best friend, welling up with tears a decade after his death… light and shade and, yes, through a glass darkly.

Bergman's shock revelation to an astonished Dick Cavett...
Perhaps the most astonishing revelation, for me at least, having little familiarity with his life story, was Bergman’s support for Adolf Hitler and the Nazi cause. Quite possibly he fell victim to the dictator’s powers of performance and undoubted eloquence but it wasn’t until 1947 that he turned away, announcing that he would never again embrace politics. Given his preference here, we can all agree on that being a good thing.

Instead, Bergman’s work was focused on his own experience whether the specifically autobiographical Fanny and Alexander (1982) or based on his own “key moments” as with Wild Strawberries which featured one of my silent heroes, Victor Sjöström, as a director realising his work has left his life behind when it is all so late. Here Bergman had a man of substance like his own and, in spite of his worries that the 77-year old would struggle he needn’t have worried. I’d happily watch a whole documentary on these two and the making of that film.

His brother Dag is featured in a previously unseen documentary, which Ingmar refused to allow screen during his lifetime – there’s clout for you – and it’s not hard to see why. Dag felt that the younger Bergman boy was more of a conformist swot than he and, indeed, more Fanny than Alexander… either way they shared a tough upbringing with their father a strict and very conservative parish minister.

Ingrid Thulin and Victor Sjöström in Wild Strawberries (1957)
Again, all grist to the amateur screen psychologist but it’s the testament of the many who worked with him that is most revelatory with some conflicted emotions generally being over-written by admiration for work-rate and incredible quality control.

Director Jane Magnusson pulls together so many diverse voices into a coherent and compelling narrative that presents the personality of Bergman with an emotional richness that doesn’t shy away from his darker tones.

The BFI’s Bergman expert Geoff Andrew, who programmed last-year’s retrospective at BFI Southbank commented that while the anecdotes are offered by many who knew him are illuminating, “…none, however, are perhaps quite as revealing as Ingmar’s own testimony.” Indeed it his candour that gives weight to those other voices and convinces you that we’re seeing an authentic record of his life and personality.

Bergman in later life, still working...
Not surprisingly Bergman – A Year in a Life (2018) won the European Film Academy Documentary Award - Prix Arte and it is that good.

The film opens at BFI Southbank, HOME Manchester, ICA and selected cinemas UK-wide from 25 January 2019 and this Friday's screening at BFI with include a Q&A with director Jane Magnusson. Details of the full list are on the BFI site.

You can also watch the new BFI trailer. Fascinating and disturbing all at the same time: a man absolutely driven but not always towards the empathy so deeply evident in his films... How does that happen in a person of such intelligence?

Sunday, 20 January 2019

Smile… It's the Old Army Game (1926), Bristol Old Vic with Sally Philips, European Silent Screen Virtuosi, Slapstick Festival

Laughter may be the best medicine but there’s a lot to be said for smiling too. Bristol’s Slapstick Festival is the best of the West, an annual institution that draws huge support from Cary Grant’s hometown and comedians past and ever-present. As I sat in the Old Vic’s café with my wife and hangover, nursing a recuperative coffee more in hope than expectation, I spotted a table-full of Goodies, Tim Brooke-Taylor, Bill Oddie and Graeme Garden who lifted my spirits higher than caffeine ever could – I grew up smiling with them and also laughing with Tim, John Junkin and Lord Barry Cryer on Hello Cheeky (not forgetting Denis King on the old Joanna… I never caught her surname).

I’ve also never quite recovered from Sally Philips’ smile as her character repeatedly failed to keep a straight face confronted with Alan Partridge’s wrong-headedness. She was here to introduce perhaps cinema history’s most sublime smiler in one of her earliest films: it’s not the shadow of Louise Brooks’ smile but the sheer brilliance that warms the heart. As Sally said, Brooks almost breaks the fourth wall with her charisma and we’re also spellbound by her dancer’s grace and her pure, unconscious expression. That smile can be used for good and ill and Sally showed us a clip from Pandora’s Box in which Lulu once more seduces her man only to smile in wicked triumph as his fiancée opens the door to see them… she can smile and be a villain too but, it's a smile that still draws the viewer in. 

This was the first time I’d seen It's the Old Army Game (1926) on the big screen and in the quality it deserves. It was Brooks’ fourth film and only her second as the female lead and she had initially turned it down possibly because Clara Bow – who was committed to making Mantrap – refused it first: although that sounds a little mythical to me. She changed her mind possibly because of her friendship with WC Fields, with whom she had worked at the Follies. It would turn out to be a fateful decision as she would end up marrying the director Edward Sutherland within two months of the wrap.

Today's accompaniment was provided by European Silent Screen Virtuosi led by peerless pianist Günter A. Buchwald, Slapstick’s musical director and now in his 13th year at the festival. He led Romano Todesco (double bass and on the beat throughout), Marc Roos (excelling on trombone) and Frank Bockius (percussion) in an improvised score that fitted the film like a glove. In the Vic’s stalls I had a great view of the players and, especially Frank’s drumming be it on wood, tympani, or, indeed, drums. He imitated fire engines, telephone, door bells but all in a musical way and blended with the overall lines of the collective which worked thematically around the characters and situations to produce and early contender for small ensemble accompaniment of the year – I shall remind you when Silent London’s poll comes around.

The film itself was a light and frothy as one of Elmer Prettywillie’s cream sodas and is, as Günter observed post-match, almost two films; a romance between Brooks’ shop girl Marilyn and a charming chancer, George Parker (William Gaxton) and the slapstick comedy with Field as the misanthropic Prettywillie who never gives a sucker an even break, looking after number one first and often failing. Fields was 47 at the time (Brooks just 19) and the film was his chance to cross-over from the theatre to cinema following in the footsteps of other, younger, men such as Chaplin and Keaton. He regarded it as a risk which is hard to credit given his later success. An inventive and skilled performer he throws in what must have been a fair chunk of his regular act throughout a largely formless narrative involving battles with small children, family and customers.

The film starts with a daring real-time stunt as a woman (excellently played by an uncredited Elise Cavanna) drives like a maniac, narrowly missing a train just to buy a stamp: my wife gasped at the stunt and it is indeed remarkable. She wakes up Elmer in order to make her purchase and the proceeds to set off the fire alarm in trying to post her letter. The fire brigade arrives at the store to find no fire but plenty of soda and the startlingly pretty sight of Marilyn. Naturally a fire is started after they have left and Elmer spends a delirious few minutes attempting to wade through his dislocated response to the danger.

Elmer tries in vain to get some sleep but is constantly disturbed by his nephew, the knife grinder and the ice man, who cometh most inconveniently. Fields nephew is meant to look younger but is played by 11-year-old Mickey Bennett who had to work hard on some brutal stunts with Fields – he’s kicked, pulled and generally thrown around. A smaller child wouldn’t have gone the distance, but Fields’ antipathy towards children required extreme visual expression and Bennett goes with the blows like a real trouper!

Mickey’s mother, played by Mary Foy, is similarly disliked by her brother… as is the Station Agent, Tessie Gilch (Blanch Ring – Sutherland’s aunt), who has a soft spot for him... there’s so much bile in Fields’ world-view and you can understand why he had taken so long to find a story in film. He’s not much of a hero and, Marilyn aside, seems to react to circumstances with short term respite his only goal… I suspect I’m growing into the man he became.

The story, such as it is, doesn’t really get going until about half way through when salesman George Parker persuades Prettywillie to join him in selling New York land to the local Floridians. Parker has already appeared stopping off to post a letter at the station to one of his girlfriends, only to fall in love at first sight of Marilyn. He follows her into town and there’s a wonderful sequence of Brooks walking away dropping her hankie or pausing to browse the magazines, all the time waiting for Parker to catch up.

When the two do eventually connect, it is genuine but even this doesn’t stop George from involving the drugstore in his scam – does he know it’s a scam? Is he himself the victim of the New York con artists? This part of the plot is difficult to fathom – you know where the story’s going but it doesn’t really bother to explain itself and maybe that’s a post-modern comment on contemporary narrative or just an oversight.

Elmer goes with the flow and starts to sell thousands of dollars’ worth of lots to the townsfolk. Things are going well and everyone goes on a picnic, with George and Marilyn going for a swim – any excuse to get the young starlet in a skimpy costume - whilst Elmer, Mickey and the “Girls” lay waste to the garden of a wealthy family. This sequence is pure WC anarchy with windows smashed and property damaged before they escape by driving through a wall. It’s daft and purely malicious, but all done with a tipsy wink of the eye; Fields’ was possibly more hard-hitting than others of this time – he genuinely didn’t seem to care and there's a distinct edge to all the mayhem.

Of course the land scam comes back to bite them and things escalate out of control as Prettywillie goes to New York to confront the baddies and set fire to what's left of his car. Parker gets arrested and things look bad until something unexplained happens… You have to laugh. You can't help but smile.

It's the Old Army Game is now available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber and is now in pretty good quality, but it’s never been as funny for me as it was today when a combination of venue, audience, music and motion left us grinning like fools.

Bristol, as ever, it’s a pleasure!

The Slapstick Festival continues for one more day – details here – and then with the gala performance of Modern Times at the Hippodrome on 10th February: tickets available from the website.

Saturday, 12 January 2019

Show people… The Lady Without Camelias (1953), BFI Antonioni season

It’s hard to watch Michelangelo Antonioni’s fifties films without looking for clues based on familiarity with his iconic sixties’ quintet. Sure enough, there are plenty of long takes, designed in part to prevent studio cuts, and a focus on identity as post-war humanity struggles to assert itself among clinical modernity.

The opening sees a young woman walking hesitatingly towards a cinema down a darkened Roman street in order to see the reaction to her first film, a former shop girl she has been talent spotted and placed in a crowd-pleasing film for which she will be the main attraction.

The story is a lot more narratively specific and conventional than his later work but still devastates at the end with Lucia Bosé’s character, Clara Manni, caught in the trap of being defined only by her looks and limited expectations both as an actress and a woman. It’s a thought-provoking and painful with the film a carefully-structured space in which our expectations meet in discomforting collision – an end result that makes for a highly watchable experience in an age when these issues are still to the fore.

Clara edges towards the cinema to see her success...
At one point Clara’s husband, Gianni Franchi (Andrea Checchi), decides she should stop making popular entertainment and star in his film about Joan of Arc… she hasn’t the skill and one audience member decries, “…how could she, after Falconetti and Bergman…?” – good to see the reference to one of the great silent performances of the former in Dreyer’s Passion of Joan... But Clara’s Joan is hollow without the guile or skill to resonate beyond situation and she’s trapped between being an unwilling wife to a controlling husband and the freedom she deserves.

Their house is a cage, a claustrophobic matrix of undulating angles that frame Clara’s conversations with Gianni as much as it defines his rigid view of their marriage and his wife. He set his sights on the young actress shortly after she shot to fame and his single-minded pursuit ends with him ambushing Clara with a proposal in front of her parents.

Not for the last time a man and a woman fail to connect for Antonioni
But it’s hard to know where the hollow objectification of Clara ends and her own vacuity begins which is exactly on point for Michelangelo in his pomp. This doesn’t make Clara an unlikable character just one who is part of the director’s design as much as her home and nor does it indicate any lack of sympathy on his part; after all, no one has really encouraged her to think deeply about anything. Even that sounds harsh but it’s not meant to be and she’s not alone in a film in which everyone is concerned with the surface. That ending does indicate Clara’s awakening and in that there’s hope.

Clara’s lack of camelias is a period reference to Alexandre Dumas’ much-filmed novel The Lady of the Camellias in which a beautiful courtesan has an affair with a penniless writer who is persuaded to leave her in order to marry a more suitable woman. The camelias originally referred to flowers worn to indicate the lady’s availability to lovers (broadly speaking….) and so a lack of them presumably means that Clara’s signalling is obscured and she certainly lacks the clear signalling she needs to define herself. But Antonioni always leaves work for his audience to do and makes sure there is an engaging amount of evidence on screen.

Clara imprissoned by Gianni's desire and ambition
Lucia Bosé is excellent and had already proved herself to the director in his first feature, Story of a Love Affair and here the story mirrors her own rise from bakery to film stardom. She has the looks but also the acting style required to give us exactly what her director expects – restrained naturalism that merely presents more clues in the bigger picture encompassing mise en scène, camerawork and architecture. With Antonioni the sum is always greater than the parts, literally, which might give some grounds for those who might see it as lacking in passion but you can't have everything. 

There is so much to see and the search for meaning is usually worth it. As Gianni pulls her from the film she is making on the grounds of its sexual content, their friend, the director Ercole (Gino Cervi), sweeps into their labyrinthine and pretentious house to confront her recalcitrant husband, almost hidden within, secure of his position and prize. As the director leaves in frustration Clara is framed by the diagonal lines of the glass and steel stairs.

Joan lacks passion, Clara walks away from the truth...
After their Joan film fails at Venice, Clara’s actions are the reverse of the opening sequence as she runs away from the cinema in despair as the jeers and laughter follow her. She is “rescued” by a diplomat, Bernardo Rusconi (Ivan Desny), and he sweet talks her on a trip from the Lido to the main city. At first resistant Clara accepts his offer of escape and leaves Gianni only to find he’s  only really interested in one thing and it’s not commitment. There’s another fantastic single take in the apartment when he rings just as Gianni and Ercole walk off behind her, by the time they have rounded the balcony and descended the stairs, she’s slumped in her chair, for all the world suspended in mid-air, paralysed by conflicted opportunity.

Clara seeks advice from the veteran actor on her first film, Lodi (Alain Cuny), who speaks the most honestly of any of the men when she asks should she try to become a proper actress and study. It’s the only route forwards in a world were patronage and box office drive friendship… and one where whatever doors are opened by a pretty face slam shut soon after entry.

The film was screened as part of the BFI’s Antonioni season which includes all the director’s major works as well as his debut – full details on the institute’s website. I’ve just watched La Notte on the big screen for the first time and it was so full of the promises made in this earlier film – Marcello Mastroianni writer in crisis is every bit the nephew of the misunderstanding Gianni and Jeanne Moreau’s thoughts fill the screen always within Antonioni’s surprising angles and all-consuming architecture.

Geoff Andrew who programmed the Antonioni season and who presented an overview of his work in a fascinating talk this week, admires the director’s work for its formal innovation and intellectual engagement even if he does not have for him the emotional resonance of Bergman, for whom Andrew programmed last year’s season. Of this film he observed that whilst it was a deft and gently satirical portrait of the Italian film industry the story contains what would become common themes with men who are often arrogant and feckless and women who are understandably bored and frustrated by the lack of sincere connection. 

There’s a lot more of this to come so please check out the BFI website and watch these films in their proper context.

Drama in the spaces between the characters
Clara is left floating between possibilities