57 of 59 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
Some movies slowly work their magic, gradually sucking you in. This film had me at hello. As soon as I heard the first few soft, compelling notes of Nino Rota's evocative score, I knew I was going to love this film. Needless to say, I was not disappointed.
A person could probably describe the basic plot of Le Notti Bianche in a single sentence; the film is simple, and all the more timeless and beautiful for being so. It is a mood piece, a tone poem, a thoughtful study of loneliness, isolation and despair in which imagery, the placing of actors and objects within each frame, is as important to establishing character and atmosphere as dialogue and action. Le Notti Bianche works primarily on an emotional level but is also vaguely profound in its existential shadings. It exists in a world halfway between fairy tale and reality, and inhabits that world so convincingly that we never question the more fantastic elements. Cinema as poetry, pure and simple.
Marcello Mastroianni plays a young office worker, new to the city, who roams the streets at night in search of an anodyne for his loneliness. It is interesting to see Mastoianni in his pre-sex symbol days, playing a character who is humble, diffident, and still quite youthful. Only three years later he would appear in La Dolce Vita as the jaded protagonist, a man already bored and angry with his sexuality. Maria Schell is his love interest, a girl so sheltered and ingenuous as to be almost unbelievable, but Schell manages to be convincing, abetted no doubt by the fact that the story is half-fairy tale and a certain suspension of disbelief is required. Jean Marais, possessor of one of the most unique visages in cinema, has a brief role, with little to do other than looking handsome and angst-ridden; he is craggier-looking than in the great films he made with Jean Cocteau, but still charismatic.
The tone of the film is almost like an unbroken line, rarely deviating from its somber pace, with the exception of a couple of key scenes. During the most important and eventful night of the story, the main characters visit a dancehall, and the scene within is wild, sexual, like something out of Fellini, in fact it might have been an influence on the crazy dance scene in La Dolce Vita. Later, Mastroianni's character temporarily hooks up with a woman who has been admiring him for the past few nights, stalking him almost, their encounter ending in a violent confrontation with some street thugs. The way Mastroianni discards the woman is brutal, thoughtless and unsettling, and adds an uncomfortable layer of darkness to the overall sweetness of the character, and the film.
Le Notti Bianche is different than other films in Luchino Visconti's oevre, which tend to be less visually poetic, more melodramatic. The film is certainly as operatic as other Visconti works, but in a more subtle way, how it melds music with the emotion of the moment so perfectly. It's like a Puccini opera, but without the suicide, the crying and screaming, the death by consumption. It tells a gentle story, sad, moving and totally engrossing.
18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
The director Luchino Visconti is known for many different films such as Ossessione (1943), The Leopard (1963), and Death in Venice (1971), but the style that many link him with is the Italian neo-realism. However, many of Visconti's films do not follow the school of Italian neo-realism, as he uses heavy sense of artistic expression. Yet, he continues to explore the tangible through allegorical, metaphorical, and symbolical illustrations, which suggest that he never separated himself from realism, or what truly exists. Visconti remained true to the idea that what he displays exists, however, what exists could also have a more profound meaning on an intangible level. For example, even though Visconti broke off with Italian neo-realism in Le Notti Bianche through fantasy like visuals, the audience can still see the strong influence from the Italian neo-realism.
Visconti continued to make his own adaptations of already existing works throughout his career, and he freely changed the works to fit his own vision. Le Notti Bianche is no exception to this notion, as Visconti tailored Fyodor Dostoyevsky White Nights to fit his idea. Both stories deal with a lonely man and lonely woman, but the differences emerge through Visconti's cinematic illustrations. The film takes place during the winter unlike the book, which is staged in the spring. Despite the free adaptation, the Italian filmmaker succeeds in creating an astonishing story that keeps the audience compelled to experience the agonized love of lost and yearning spirits.
The film opens one late night when Mario (Marcello Mastroianni) wanders the town where he is a stranger. He has recently relocated due to work, and finds himself restless and lonely. During Mario's nightly walk he encounters a weeping young woman on a bridge. He later learns her name, Natalia (Maria Schell), a woman equally lonely, which is also the reason she is weeping. Briefly before Mario introduces himself to Natalia, he defends her reputation against two young men who give her sexually suggestive insinuations. Superficially, Mario is a modern man with values influenced by the modern society, as he subtly frowns upon old traditions and values. Yet, he secretively respects the old traditions when it favors him, which leaves him in emotional twilight that at times confuses him.
After Mario and Natalia have introduced themselves to each other, they plan a rendezvous the following evening on the bridge where they first met even though Natalia is hesitant about the idea. The three following evenings Mario learns more about Natalia, as they meet on equal terms on the bridge where they first bumped into each other. She is a woman that has been raised by her grandmother who strongly holds on traditional values. At first, Mario frowns at how she has been raised, but becomes more enthralled by her naive and childlike persona. He also learns that she has been waiting for her beloved on the bridge for year, which has left her in a loneliness that has had an emotionally draining affect on her.
The canal over which the bridge divides the two worlds that they come from in the old-fashion and modern. Mario coming from the modern world to which he attempts to attract her away from her fantasy world where she dreams of her knight in shining armor. Each night Mario attempts to lure Natalia into his side of the canal where the bars, neon signs, and other attractions exert a pull on her. Slowly she begins to cross the canal over the bridge more frequently, which has strong symbolical meaning in the sense of decision making while the canal serves as metaphorical divider for moral values. Thus, in retrospect, speechlessness renders the viewer in the first scene where Mario crosses the bridge upon which Natalia is crying, as profound symbolism in regards to choices and ideals.
Le Notti Bianche is entirely shot in a studio, which is obvious. However, the removal of the authenticity of shooting at location enhances the fantasy within the story. In addition, several scenes include fog and this increases the uncertainty within the audience. These cinematic elements generate an atmosphere where the audience questions Natalia's unyielding belief in her high idealistic view of love. It also favors the realistic approach, which Mario presents to Natalia. The realism is present, yet Visconti plays with the imagination of a higher ideals through displaying the agony of loneliness and the desire of being desired and loved. Le Notti Bianche is a remarkably clever tale that depicts how two different, yet the same, ideals converge through both the real and the imaginary.