Thursday, June 30, 2016

La provinciale / The Wayward Wife

Rakkauden harhapoluilla. IT 1953. D: Mario Soldati. Based on: dal racconto omonimo (1937, in L'imbroglio) di Alberto Moravia. SC: Giorgio Bassani, Sandro De Feo, Jean Ferry, Mario Soldati. Cinematography: G. R. Aldo, Domenico Scala. ED: Leo Cattozzo. AD: Flavio Mogherini. M: Franco Mannino. C: Gina Lollobrigida (Gemma Foresi), Gabriele Ferzetti (professor Franco Vagnuzzi), Franco Interlenghi (Paolo Sartori), Nanda Primavera (madre di Gemma), Marylin Buferd (Anna Letizia Sartori), Barbara Berg (Vannina), Alda Mangini (contessa Elvira), Renato Baldini (Luciano Vittoni). P: Attilio Riccio per Electra Compagnia Cinematografica. 35 mm. 115’. B&w.
    Camera operator: Giuseppe Rotunno
    Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna
    Mario Soldati, a Writer at Cinecittà
    Print from CSC – Cineteca Nazionale
    E-subtitles in English by Sub-Ti Londra
    Cinema Jolly, 30 June 2016

Emiliano Morreale (Bologna catalog): "According to Soldati, it is his best film. At a time in which he was busy producing genre cinema (Walter Chiari comedies; pirate movies), he managed to complete a project from a few years earlier: the first film adaptation of a novel by Alberto Moravia, whom Soldati had known since childhood. The screenplay, written together with Giorgio Bassani, reworks the novel’s narrative though a complicated flashback structure. Beginning with a striking initiating event, the film narrates the life of an unsatisfied middle-class woman from differing points-of-view, adopting the perspective of various characters who, each in their own way, fail to comprehend her. It is another great portrait of a female character, which transposes Moravia’s realism into the classic suspense-mechanism typical of Soldati’s films. In so doing, it joins an elite company of ‘modernist’ melodramas of the period: the first films of Antonioni, certain works by Vittorio Cottafavi, Antonio Leonviola, Claudio Gora and Mario Monicelli. The modernism of its narrative structure is complemented by an elaborate style dominated by lengthy sequence-shots, a sophisticated use of music and a depth of field that places Gemma and her ‘narrators’ on the same plane, making it impossible to judge one without simultaneously judging the other. As Jean Cocteau stated at the time: “The film as a whole is part Maupassant and even part Marcel Proust; but the filmmaker’s skill and the economic use of dialogue and gestures saves the operation. Every second exhibits a power without recourse to tricks or expediencies, a mastery before which we should all bow down”. Perhaps the film also contains Gina Lollobrigida’s best dramatic performance." – Emiliano Morreale

AA: Alberto Moravia had written screenplays and contributed to them since 1940, but La provinciale is the first film adaptation based on a story by him. It is a story of Gemma Foresi (Gina Lollobrigida), a woman from the provinces languishing in a marriage with a scientist. The non-linear screenplay takes us soon to the climax of the drama, and then a series of flashbacks and flashbacks within flashbacks illuminate us how it all started.

A woman pianist in the corner apartment practising Beethoven provides musical continuity to the story.

With a long establishing shot and some expressive panning we get acquainted with the world of the narrative. G. R. Aldo and Domenico Scala are in charge of the cinematography. Giuseppe Rotunno was in this phase working with the best of them as camera operator. The camera movements in La provinciale are expressions of a high level of cinematic thinking. The visual intensity of the film is remarkable.

The performances are first-rate, and Emiliano Morreale's suggestion that this film perhaps contains Gina Lollobrigida's best dramatic performance is easy to believe.

In the beginning there is a love affair of youth, but it has to stop. Paolo Sartori (Franco Interlenghi) is the Count's son. Gemma's mother then reveals that Gemma is the Count's illegitimate daughter. Gemma gets married with professor Franco Vagnuzzi (Gabriele Ferzetti) as a substitute. The marriage is very one-sided. "I am for you for that one thing only", complains Gemma.

A refugee from socialist Romania, Elvira (Alda Mangini), who claims to be a countess, provides some diversion, but slowly it turns out that she is really a hostess for "discreet meetings" with selective gentlemen. Gemma has misunderstood the discreet meetings at first as true relationships based on affection. The spidery Elvira gradually transforms into a blackmailer who even infiltrates into Gemma and Paolo's household while they are on vacation in Switzerland.

In Switzerland, from reactions of students, Gemma for the first time understands that Franco really is an outstanding, internationally recognized scientist working on cosmological research. There are interesting spatial 3D representations of the cosmos in Franco's study.

Having returned from Switzerland and meeting at home Elvira who has moved in without permission Gemma has had enough. But even Gemma's violent reaction is not sufficient. Franco, having heard the full story, throws Elvira's belongings to the street and asks her to get out. There is a breath of fresh air and a crescendo on the Beethoven piano piece.

There is some affinity with Madame Bovary in this story but there are also crucial differences. Gemma is not sexually neglected, on the contrary. And her husband is not provincial, on the contrary. Rather, La provinciale resembles some stories by Anton Chekhov, such as Poprygunya / The Grasshopper where a gentle doctor is married to a woman who fails to rise to his wavelength.

La provinciale is a quality production and a well made film, but I have my reservations about the story. Without having read Moravia's original story I suspect that the limitations stem from it.

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