Le Amiche

Le Amiche


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"I've never really had time for making friends," explains fashion boutique manager Clelia to her new acquaintances upon moving to Turin. It's not that she's uninterested, she's just always felt it necessary to put her career first. Now she is welcomed into a close circle of female companionship, but over time it emerges that things are not as rosy as they might seem.

Made in 1955, Le Amiche, one of only three literary adaptations developed by Antonioni, is remarkably forward-looking. It may feel dated to some viewers now but its concern with the balance between work, friendship and romance is still starkly relevant to many women's lives today. This is a world in which the women are encountered very much by themselves, in their own spaces, their lives lived quite separately from those of the men with whom they seem to be in a constant state of war. These peripheral figures appear to define themselves by their isolation, in opposition to the community spirit of the women. "You have no interior life," charges one, implying that the women depend on that community for their psychological existence. Yet beneath the surface the women are also at war with each other and all their carefully manufactured behaviours cannot conceal the bitterness forever.

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Balanced between light drama and comedy with occasional segues of something darker, Le Amiche is a deceptively sharp look at a society in flux and at the destructive effect on individual lives of lingering social divisions. These women can enjoy careers but there is still an expectation that they should give them up on marriage, or at any rate never earn more than their husbands. Love is prized but a romance that crosses class boundaries is still treated with thinly disguised disgust. Extramarital affairs are de rigeur but nobody is actually expected to feel good about them in the long term and a wife is still expected to return to her husband's side as soon as he expresses regret. Through the medium of apparently trivial scenes we watch this social politics exert a very real, apparently inescapable effect on characters whose apparent agency is belied by their repetition of old moves, like participants in a dance. Their very different personalities are still squeezed into the same roles.

Beautifully shot on location in Turin, the film employs striking sets and gorgeous costuming to explore the impotence of wealth and the artificiality of its cultural trappings. Clelia remains an outsider, providing the audience with a means whereby to enter this world, but she too is caught up in the dance, suggesting that class, for all the restrictions it imposes, makes no real difference. For all its stellar cast and bold subject matter, this is one of Antonioni's lesser-known films, sometimes dismissed as a chick-flick ahead of its time; yet just as with the friendships it explores, there's a lot more going on beneath the surface.

Reviewed on: 05 Apr 2011
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A woman grows gradually disillusioned with the new circle of friends she has formed in dramatic circumstances.
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Director: Michelangelo Antonioni

Writer: Michelangelo Antonioni, based on the book by Cesare Pavese.

Starring: Eleonora Rossi Drago, Gabriele Ferzetti, Franco Fabrizi, Yvonne Furneaux, Valentina Cortese, Madeleine Fischer, Ettore Manni

Year: 1955

Runtime: 104 minutes

Country: Italy


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