Antonioni throws us into the eye of the storm, within a circle of love addicts personified by a clique of cruel women. When one of them tries to commit suicide to cure her broken heart, it is outsider Clelia (Eleonora Rossi Drago) who comes to the rescue and from there on out becomes embroiled within the toxic collective. In Le amiche or The Girlfriends in its english translation, Antonioni looks at the faces behind the faces, zeroes in on personal betrayals and the whispers that go on when backs are turned.
This dig into the hypocrisies of Italian social norms in the 50s could easily get it stamped with the neorealist seal of approval but there’s a level of construct here that reaches beyond docu-realism showing Antonioni’s growing disinterest with that form and him pushing towards his own, signature language which would crystallise in 1960’s L’Avventura. Unlike that film though, the narrative here is neatly assembled, placing the troubled Rosetta (Madeleine Fischer) in and out of the centre, letting us feel her plight and then be witness to the backroom whispers which torment her so much, and is bookended by suicide attempts.
It’s relatively conventional stuff for Antonioni, compared to his later work at least, but it’s still a supreme social drama, laced with a deep cynicism and written and acted beautifully. The ensemble of actresses is terrific, all visibly enjoying cloaking their bitchy hostility with smiling face facades. The images of Turin – all sharp edges and vast space – shimmer with silvery precision, showing that Antonioni’s love affair with environments and architecture didn’t just emerge in the 1960s. This is a marvellous and biting early work from Antonioni which may be more widely regarded as a major entry in his filmography if he didn’t change cinema so drastically in the decade that followed.
Watched on Eureka blu-ray.