Saturday, November 1, 2014

White Nights

Le Notti Bianche; drama, Italy, 1957; D: Luchino Visconti, S: Marcello Mastroianni, Maria Schell, Jean Marais, Marcella Rovena

Mario is a young man who has a poorly paid job and wonders through city's streets at night to forget his loneliness. One night, he meets a girl at a bridge, Natalia, and falls in love with her. When they meet the second night, she avoids him, though, and then explains that she is awaiting for a man whom she fell in love with a year ago: the man rented a room at her place but disappeared without an explanation, except that he said he will wait for her exactly a year later at the bridge. The third night, Mario takes Natalia out for a dance and she agrees to marry him, thinking her man left her. However, just as Mario was overwhelmed with joy, Natalia leaves him when her man shows up at the bridge.

Luchino Visconti's "White Nights" is a well made film, yet its overstretched impression reveals that it is based on Fyodor Dostoyevsky's eponymous short story and that it would have been better as a short film: while the transition to Natalia's home a year ago is effective, as a flashback it drags on for too long, whereas while the long dance sequence is deliciously comical, even it is overlong. The virtues of the film are various contemplations about loneliness and one scene near the end, in particular, is the essence that carries and justifies the whole film: when Natalia agrees to marry him, it starts to snow and Mario has his Annus mirabilis summed up in five minutes - for the first time in the entire film, he is overwhelmed with joy and it is clear the only thing missing in his life was just love when he shouts: "I thought this city was bleak and depressive. But all this time it was me! Now it seems bright and full of sparkle." This retroactively gives the events weight and emotional power, which comes to full expression in the end. The black and white cinematography is also remarkably crisp and crystal clear, giving dark streets at night a fine mood. While the storyline is kind of contrived and melodramatic at times - it is never clear why Natalia fell for the mystery man in the first place, nor why she would be waiting for him for a whole year when he did not provide any reason for his absence - the two main actors manage to minimize the flaws and strengthen the framework: Marcello Mastroianni is great and charismatic, though a little bit too attractive to convey a lonely man, whereas Maria Schell allegedly memorized all her lines phonetically since she did not speak Italian. Her performance is great, though he character is slightly indecisive.


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