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Saturday, April 9, 2011

LE NOTTI BIANCHE / WHITE NIGHTS (1957)

We’re nearer Mascagni than Moscow in Luchino Visconti’s adaptation of Dostoevsky’s short story; not necessarily a bad thing. The terribly young, terribly handsome Marcello Mastroianni (check out those test shots on the Criterion DVD) is the lonely soul, new in town, who falls for shy, fresh-faced Maria Schell. She’s been faithfully waiting a whole year for Jean Marais, her handsome tenant, to return; perhaps she’ll give up on the cause. The outcome is no more important than the mood & atmosphere as Visconti turns this romantically fatalistic fable into a masterpiece of poetic-realism on an ultra-realistic, yet frankly studio-bound set. You’d need to go back to the glory days of Frank Borzage’s late silents @ Fox to find its rapturous visual equal. Off the main set, watch for two stunning musical episodes as Schell, in a flashback, goes with Marais & Grandmama to the opera; and back in the present at a local boîte where Mastroianni asserts his manhood jiving to Bill Haley & his Comets’ ‘Thirteen Women.’ Schell works her innocent waïf routine pretty hard (so did Janet Gaynor in those Borzage classics), gazing up to catch the light, but you’d put up with far more to reach the film’s snowy apotheosis.

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