Monday, March 25, 2013

Luchino Visconti: Le Notti Bianche / White Nights

Luchino Visconti's Le notti bianche / White Nights (1957), based on Fyodor Dostoyevsky's 1849 story of the same name (albeit literally Белые ночи), seems simple but serves as a sort of microcosm for humankind. There are dreams and there is surface reality. There are traditional ways of life and there are modern ways. There are things that seem eternal and things that change. 

The storyline is unexpectedly enhanced through black and white film, and by the physical setting -- a simulacrum or replica of a small handful of Italian urban spaces, exteriors and interiors -- recreated in a film studio in Roma. The effect is surreal, but the story feels real. 

The set-up is simple. New Dude comes to town for work and is seeking social interaction. Comes across a Distraught Woman at night, and they create a connection. Turns out she lives with her grandmother, an older woman who lets out room space in their abode to short-term boarders. About a year before this moment, the Mysterious Man was one such boarder. He became enamored of Distraught Woman, and she of him. The Mysterious Man (perhaps a writer) said he'd return in a year, but had to leave -- without explanation. New Dude has come across Distraught Woman as she waits for The Return of the Mysterious Man. Over the next few nights, New Dude wooes Distraught Woman, drawing her from traditional living into modern living. But will he succeed completely? There are other elements and contrasts, too, ranging from live opera vs. early jukebox rock and roll, letters and notes and books vs. Esso and petrol, snow vs. electric lights. And there's a prostitute ("world's oldest profession," very traditional) and random folks, some of the old world, some of the new. 

With New Dude (Mario) played by Marcello Mastroianni and Distraught Woman (Natalia) by Maria Schell (sister of Maximilian Schell), La notti bianche works beautifully. (Note: Mysterious Man -- Jean Marais -- appears elsewhere as Jean Cocteau's Orpheus.)        

Today's Rune: Possessions.

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