Friday, February 26, 2016

Difficult--as Easy--to Know

If a woman is beautiful, what else is there to know? The acquaintances of Adriana don't bother to learn much else in 1965's I Knew Her Well (Io la conoscevo bene), an Italian Neorealist film by Antonio Pietrangeli that follows in the footsteps of La Dolce Vita in its subject matter and visual style but follows a more conventional structure. Its fascination with its star, though, is infectious and the viewer is compelled to contemplate human nature in the form of one pretty, shallow, and naive would-be starlet.

We meet Adriana (Stefania Sandrelli) in a state in which we'll see her many times throughout the film--half naked but with the most important bits concealed. She's so innocent and comfortable in her home town, she runs home clutching her bikini top to her chest and asks a street vendor to tie it for her.

We see her skinny dipping later and twice we see her lounging about with only a towel but we never really see her naked. The tease is titillating, of course. I have two, diverging thoughts about what this might do to the viewer's perspective. One is that it may help bring the viewer into Adriana's perspective in that she sees herself as a glamorous star for whom the camera always dutifully shoots around the embarrassing bits. But it also puts distance between the audience and her perspective--when bits of an actor or actress are concealed for the purposes of morality even while the character is alone it inevitably draws the viewer outside the perspective of the character and even outside the movie itself.

Yet it's the artificial isolation of Adriana's mind that is the central issue for her character. She has only superficial interest in the people around her even as she thrives on their adoration. A police officer questions her about a man who skipped out on her, leaving her with a hotel bill, but learning that he's a criminal does nothing to eclipse her impression of him as being "funny", a night's plaything.

A traffic accident early in the film where a cyclist is killed seems to draw little reaction from her though clutching her companion's hand seems to imply she is vaguely troubled at the incident.

There are many scenes of her dancing at home alone, staring at her own feet as she walks. There are many scenes of her looking in mirrors and the film establishes rather well that she is the at centre of her affections.

Franco Nero has a small role as a garage attendant who falls for her too. She's happy to add his affections to the pile but all the eggs of her affection are ultimately in her own basket. Her beauty and her simple-mindedness stand in the way of making her altogether repulsive. Even so, the terrible effect when her bubble is finally burst comes somehow like a revelation.

The film is beautifully shot and takes great advantage of its star and Rome, its location.

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