Fiances Separated: Italy’s “I Fidanzati”

Cover of "I Fidanzati - Criterion Collect...

Cover of I Fidanzati – Criterion Collection

Giovanni and Liliana, engaged to be married, are capable of bringing joy to each other, but . . . it might not happen for a long while.  Or it will happen only periodically.  The couple must be temporarily separated from each other because they cannot afford to marry and Giovanni, much to Liliana’s sadness, has agreed to a welding job in Sicily.  The film—Italy’s The Fiances (I Fidanzati, 1963)—then zeroes in on Giovanni’s solitary life in a mundane Sicilian town.  I mentioned joy—but the town offers little of it.  It can be quite dreary.

The Fiances was scripted and directed by Ermanno Olmi, and it is tempting to think that while making it he was in love with Loredana Detto, the actress in Olmi’s Il Posto, whom he later married, and that this accounts for the film’s eventual romantic feeling.  Expressed here, in fact, is the need for the certainty of love (romantic feeling or no).  Giovanni and Liliana, we see, are more than the weak and financially poor persons they necessarily know themselves to be.  They are fiancés, and to Olmi—a devout Catholic, in fact—this makes all the difference in the world.

Starring Carlo Cabrini and Anna Canzi, the picture is short and artistic, gentle and tasteful.  It has more vigor than an early ’60s Antonioni film, but is more restrained and indeed smarter than a Fellini film.  Few Italian products nowadays surpass it.

(In Italian with English subtitles)

Saying Yes To Kubrick’s “Lolita”

Cover of "Lolita"

Cover of Lolita

I have read only a chunk of Nabokov’s novel, Lolita, and thus cannot comment on it.  If it’s perverse, which I doubt, the 1962 Stanley Kubrick movie is not.  Sue Lyon‘s Lolita is fifteen or sixteen, not twelve, hence Humbert Humbert (James Mason) is not really a pedophile.  He is a debonair fool with whom we seldom sympathize, and it’s even slightly odd that he murders the abominable Clare Quilty (Peter Sellers).

The movie has nothing to say, whether the book does or not, although it is a human-condition tale.  And it holds our attention.  Sequences such as that in which Charlotte (Shelley Winters) perforce turns on Humbert are very sturdy.  Lolita is visually attractive and the acting is absorbing.  Mason, Winters and comically grotesque Sellers are genuine interpretive artists, and Sue Lyon is convincing as a rebellious lass willing to “love.”

Kubrick’s film is fine by me.

“Tristana” Blues

After her mother’s death, Tristana (Catherine Deneuve) in 1970’s Tristana, becomes the ward of a much older man, Don Lope (Fernando Rey).  Innocent because of her youth, Tristana is eventually propositioned by Don Lope, agreeing to go to bed with him.  Hereafter she hates the man for his sexual proclivity and decides to take up with a young painter (Franco Neri), living with him for two years.  Subsequently Tristana develops a tumor and has to have her leg amputated—and is again in the care of her guardian.  Now, however, the woman is plainly bitter and cruel.

On the one hand, in this Luis Bunuel film, there is Don Lupe’s humane, religion-rejecting 1920s leftism (approved by Bunuel?); and on the other, Don Lope’s imperious attitude and unwise behavior because of sex.  In light of this and Tristana’s corruption, the opus must be considered basically misanthropic.  The themes here, however, have already been explored in Bunuel’s Viridiana, a film with more verve than Tristana.  Why did Bunuel want to make the picture?

Deneuve’s part is dubbed in Spanish by another speaker (the film is set in Spain).  A beautiful Spanish actress would have been preferable to a beautiful French one.

Tristana

Tristana (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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