Criterion Sunday 296: Le notti bianche (aka White Nights, 1957)

Is this how people used to meet, just chatting up beautiful weeping girls standing on canal bridges? Perhaps it’s a lost art, though Marcello Mastroianni, for all his film star looks, does have to spend the first third of the film apologising for his forward approach. Once it gets going, it’s a three-way story of a woman torn between two men, one (Jean Marais) who has left her and promised to return, and another (Mastroianni) who is right there, hungry for attention and for love. It’s all shot with great monochrome beauty on what looks like sound stage sets, though Visconti isn’t shy of showing the poverty coexisting with his beautiful leads, as they sneak away for trysts under bridges being used as shelters by homeless people. There’s a sense here about the disjunction between the romantic ideals so gorgeously expressed in some of the cinematography and the big, melodramatic emotions played out at times between the two, and the bitter truth of reality, and of how people live. There’s a lot to admire in this film, of course, but probably best of all is Mastroianni’s brief fit of dancing to a Bill Haley song in a gaudy young person’s nightclub bar. That alone would make the film worthwhile, but there’s a lot else going on besides.


FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director Luchino Visconti; Writers Suso Cecchi d’Amico and Visconti; Cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno; Starring Marcello Mastroianni, Maria Schell, Jean Marais; Length 101 minutes.

Seen at home (DVD), London, Sunday 16 February 2020.

Criterion Sunday 286: Divorzio all’italiana (Divorce Italian Style, 1961)

Marcello Mastroianni’s married man, a rakish Sicilian noble fallen on hard times, Baron Fernando, falls for his beautiful teenage cousin Angela (Stefania Sandrelli) and tries to figure out ways he can get out of his marriage, thanks to Italy’s strict laws about divorce. If the premise of this film is rather leering and lascivious, one suspects it was taken much the same way in Italy of 1960; this, after all, is a film that attempts to poke fun at the leering, lascivious ways of older gentlemen like Fernando (his dad, too, is much the same with the family’s maid). Mastroianni is of course excellent in the kind of role he was always a natural fit for, what with his charm and good looks, but that doesn’t excuse his character, who gets increasingly desperate and violent in his plotting to divorce his wife Rosalia (Daniela Rocca, who is also clearly a very beautiful woman and not much older than Sandrelli, even if the filmmakers have given her a unibrow and some unflattering upper lip hair). Ferdinando remains the focus throughout, along with his (at times) cartoonishly silly plans, and neither Angela nor Rosalia feel fully fleshed out as characters, but the film maintains a light and humorous tone to all the goings-on, with some beautiful black-and-white photography of Sicily.


FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director Pietro Germi; Writers Ennio De Concini, Germi and Alfredo Giannetti (based on the novel Un delitto d’onore “Honour Killing” by Giovanni Arpino); Cinematographers Carlo Di Palma and Leonida Barboni; Starring Marcello Mastroianni, Stefania Sandrelli, Daniela Rocca, Leopoldo Trieste; Length 108 minutes.

Seen at home (DVD), London, Sunday 12 January 2020.

Criterion Sunday 140: 8½ (aka Otto e mezzo, 1963)

It’s not that I don’t appreciate what Fellini is aiming for here — portrait of the artist as a narcissist with mother issues, one of his abiding themes — it’s just that there’s so much whirl and spectacle that I find it difficult to keep up with why I should care about Marcello Mastroianni’s Guido and his many women (and memories of women, and fantasies of women). I’ve apparently seen this film before but I don’t remember it at all, not that I’m holding up this response as any kind of proof of anything. It’s undoubtedly a well-made film which does all those reflexive filmic things (he plays a film director) that critics love when compiling their all-time lists, and the cinematography by Gianni Di Venanzo is fantastic. I just struggle to find what’s in it that I can connect with. To each their own.


FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director Federico Fellini; Writers Fellini, Ennio Flaiano, Tullio Pinelli and Brunello Rondi; Cinematographer Gianni Di Venanzo; Starring Marcello Mastroianni, Anouk Aimée, Sandra Milo; Length 138 minutes.

Seen at Rialto, Wellington, Tuesday 31 October 2000 (and most recently on DVD at a friend’s home, London, Sunday 15 January 2017).

Criterion Sunday 113: I soliti ignoti (Big Deal on Madonna Street, 1958)

Apologies for this remarkably brief review; I watched it in a state of half-sleep, though I found it likeable, I don’t really have much to contribute…


A jolly Italian farce modelled on Rififi and the like, in which a bunch of fairly incompetent criminals try to take on a job they’re not really equipped to do. There are some good comic turns, and it moves along at a clip.


FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director Mario Monicelli; Writers Agenore Incrocci, Furio Scarpelli, Suso Cecchi D’Amore and Monicelli; Cinematographer Gianni Di Venanzo; Starring Vittorio Gassman, Marcello Mastroianni; Length 111 minutes.

Seen at a friend’s home (DVD), London, Sunday 14 August 2016.