When is a Lighthouse a Phallic symbol? I took dialogue from one part of Jean Gremillon’s Poul L’amour d’une femme/ The Love of a Woman (1953) and put it under the image of the moment Micheline Presle as Doctor Marie Prieur puts on some lipstick and goes save a life. She’s having to choose between the man she loves and her profession, or rather he’s making her choose. Is it a man’s job? Will she have to give it up. Will she ever again feel as when she’s with him if she does?Context is everything. This rhymes with a moment later in the film where André Lorenzi (Massimo Girotti), the man she loves, deliberately leaves a lighter in her room. Will she give up her profession and return it to him? Will he be more understanding and go get it. Or will she face her future without him?
The first image we see in Cronaca di un amore after the credits is that of a woman in a bathing suit, beautiful alluring (see above. The images are in the order they appear in the film). The first line we hear is ‘The usual story eh’ followed by ‘no, it’s not the usual story. It’s not suspicious. In this case, the lady is faithful’. We’re told of how these photos were taken when she was a student in college. How she had a middle-class upbringing — her father’s a professor– and how she’s now an elegant society woman married to Enrico Fontana (Ferdinando Sarmi), a rich industrialist who owns over twenty companies. Her name is Paola (Lucia Bosé). The husband found that cache of photographs and they made him jealous. He wants to know what kind of a woman he married.What did she do before? What kind of friends did she have? There’s a man in one of the pictures but the picture doesn’t reveal his face. The detectives are charged with finding out her secrets so that the husband may know without asking her. The husband’s investigations start off the narrative, ironically drive his wife into the arms of that very man in the picture, and drive her to thoughts of murder that the investigation will reveal are not unknown to her. The narrative set-up, like so many investigations of women under suspicion in film, is that of noir, and Paola is the femme fatale.
The clip above is our first sight of Paola in motion. The detective has been digging dirt in her home-town. A girl who we will later find out was Guido’s girlfriend fell in an alevator shaft whilst Guido and Paola were present. Did they do it? They were in love. Is Paola capable of murder? The detective’s digging has brought Guido back to Paola, to warn her. How do you picture a woman potentially capable of murder? Note how we see her coming out of the opera, draped in white fur, dripping in jewels elegant, beautiful; in one fluid shot that pictures her first with her husband, then her elegant society friends. It’s her birthday she reminds him. Then her gaze wonders left and as the film cuts to show us what she sees, out of the past, framed against an industrial billboard, comes Guido (Massimo Girotti) her old love ,her accomplice; from her former world and from another class. Her whole mood changes. Already in the car she’s lying and manipulating. She’s a beautiful lady with a lot to lose. It’s a magnificent, expressive star entrance. A beautiful woman capable of killing for love and perhaps worth dying for.
I’ve just seen Antonioni’s Cronaca di un amore, which I found wonderful. But I’ve still to process it. For the time being, I can’t get over the extraordinary beauty of Lucia Bosé in the film and the eye-popping things she’s wearing. The clothes are by Ferdinando Sarmi, whom I’ve never heard of, and probably with good reason. They’re not ‘good’ or ‘original’ designs. But they sure look arresting, expensive and beautiful on Lucia Bosé. The jewels are by Corsi whom I’ve likewise never heard of. The hats are uncredited, which is a good thing as they are ridiculous. Was it Nancy Mitford who asked why a new hat always inspired either titters or violence? Massimo Girotti is the man in the picture and Antonioni does not film him with the same love as Visconti did in Ossessione. So permit me this fan swoon, and I’ll get to the film proper in another post.
A Venetian Countess (Alida Valli) loses her reason in succumbing to her senses and to Lieutenant Franz Mahler (Farley Granger) of the invading Austrian Army. She gives up money and position; even betrays her family, her country and her highest ideals; all for a feckless sensualist, a gigolo from the first and one who’ll show himself a quivering coward by the end. That’s where love and desire will take you in the world of Visconti and of Senso.
It’s a beautiful film, gorgeous to look at. Valli seems to float from canal to piazza, in large hooped skirt, in a wind-blown veil, as she suffers, desires, trembles, and looks for and at her lover; whilst refusing to see what is at all times clear to the audience: that he’s a cheap hustler unworthy of such sacrifices. The film is set at the time Garibaldi was uniting Italy and there are clearly points being made about European and Italian history that are beyond my present reach.
But the central story is entirely accessible; and the cinematic means through which to convey that story are the work of a giant of cinema; from the tour de force opening at the opera house to the tragic battle sequences at the end; from the grandeur of the houses right down to the exquisiteness of the pattern of a scarf that Valli holds to her face: everything is perfection. Even Granger, giving an awkward, unskilled performance is to the film’s advantage, as the looks-without-substance characteristic of the actor is so well used to convey that of the character.
A film of faded colours, set at a key historical moment, but focussing rather on the depths to which desire might drive one. A great film.