That’s entertainment

Very grateful to Masters of Cinema for sending me a complimentary dual-format edition of THE LADY WITHOUT CAMELIAS, and early, underseen Antonioni movie starring the stunning Lucia Bosè. Watched it with guest David Wingrove, which was a good decision — the film is slow to start, and the more people you have in the audience on such an occasion, the less likely you are to switch off. And I’m so glad we didn’t!

The picture begins with Bosè becoming an overnight sensation in her first movie — this Milanese shopgirl is now a rising star. The problems she now faces concern both love and art — can she achieve anything worthwhile in the cinema, and can she balance that with a successful romantic life. The reason both goals are so difficult is that the men in her life all want complete control of her, and are threatened whenever she tries to make a decision. It’s when this starts to become clear that the drama kicks in and the film goes from sliding past your eyes in a slightly apologetic fashion, to gripping you by the skull while fixing you with a hypnotic gaze. More of what we think of as the Antonioni style becomes visible as the story develops, also, as the drab studios and streets of the opening scenes are replaced with ultra-modern cinemas and chic, soulless duplexes.

They’re so chic they have a fire surround in the middle of the room.

Sophia Loren was apparently offered the lead role, but turned it down as being too close to home. But it’s Bosè
who really was a Milanese shopgirl (Loren’s background was less respectable), though Loren did work in the fumetti, as this character is supposed to have done. Bosè’s extraordinary glamour comes with a slightly uncomfortable edge — her waist is so slender it looks cinched, but isn’t. Her body achieves a blending of the voluptuous and the starved that no body should be expected to attain. Her performance has something of the glacial quality I associate with later Antonioni, but the movie invites emotional engagement with the character in a way that’s progressively less common in the maestro’s oeuvre.

The obvious comparison is Ophuls’ Italian opus, LA SIGNORA DI TUTTI, which likewise charts the rise and fall of a female movie star. That film begins with a suicide before flashing back, whereas this one adopts a straight linear path, maybe accounting for its trouble getting started, but the Antonioni is no less clearly a tragedy. While the fate that awaits Isa Miranda in the thirties flick is potentional death by her own hand, Antonioni’s heroine is threatened with spiritual death — the possibility of a life of compromise and failure. It’s potentially more depressing that way — Ophuls’ tragedy carried with it a built-in feeling of “if only”. There may be no “if only” in Antonioni’s world.

“Is every man in her life part of some conspiracy to drive her insane?” asked David W, quite early on. The answer is YES, with the multi-tier conspiracy consisting of the film business, family life, marriage, Italian society, and human nature.

David later apologized in case he was poor company, having been emotionally shattered by the experience of the film (of course, he was still spendid company, even while reeling). I never actually find films depressing if they’re good. This one I’d call devastating but not depressing. Fiona thought it was depressing, but she still liked it. Does that say something about our differing personalities?

David W tells me that only ill-health kept the octogenarian Bosè from her stated intention of appearing on the Italian version of Celebrity Love Island last year, which suggests that Antonioni’s askance view of celebrity may be more timely than ever.

15 Responses to “That’s entertainment”

  1. david wingrove Says:

    Now that I’ve finally recovered from the experience of seeing this film…yes, it truly is as amazing as David says!!

    Must say I found it infinitely more powerful than LA SIGNORA DI TUTTI. In the Ophuls film, the character played by Isa Miranda is so damaged from the outset that there’s no way you can see her living a happy life. Celebrity seems like a symptom of her emotional trauma, not a cause.

    But in the Antonioni film, Bose’s character seems like a potentially sane and well-adjusted young woman who is utterly destroyed by the process of becoming a star. On that level, the film is far less melodramatic yet infinitely more powerful. Yes, that really is what stardom does to people – or so we believe as we watch the film.

    Ironically, Bose herself seems to have survived stardom remarkably unscathed. After a brilliant early career, she gave up acting to have a family (with the Spanish bullfighter Dominguin) and returned to films only when her children were older and she and her husband had split up.

    Unlike her rivals (Loren, Lollobrigida, Mangano) she showed no interest whatsoever in an international or Hollywood character. I don’t think she even bothered to learn English…one reason, perhaps, why she never became as big a star as she deserved.

    She continues to work sporadically to this day – most recently as an eccentric aristocrat in I VICERE (THE VICEROYS) for Italian director Roberto Faenza. As for her no-show on CAPRI, or whatever the Italian series is called, perhaps she – not to mention her fans – has had a lucky escape.

  2. I’m over the moon about Lucia Bose. She’s teriffic here, but the apex of her glamour was achieved in Antonioni’s earlier Cronica di Un Amore — a variation on The Postman Always Rings Twice which like Visconti’s Ossessione has Massimo Girotti as the male lead.
    I also love Luica Bose in Fellini Satyricon and Duras’ Natalie Granger

  3. david wingrove Says:

    In what movie is it possible not to love Luica Bose? She’s also fabulous in Bardem’s DEATH OF A CYCLIST, Portabella’s NOCTURNO 29, Bolognini’s DOWN THE ANCIENT STAIR.

    As the Countess Bathory in THE LEGEND OF BLOOD CASTLE, she’s up there with Delphine Seyrig in DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS and Catherine Deneuve in THE HUNGER. Together, they form a fabulous ‘unholy trinity’ of lady vampires.

    Alas, I would exchange lives with anyone who has seen the film I most long to see but never have – LA MESSE DOREE (THE GOLDEN MASS) starring Lucia and Maurice Ronet (what a couple!) and directed by Beni Montresor. Saw two photos from it in as magazine when I was 11 and have been obsessed ever since.

  4. Death of a Cyclist is ANOTHER Postman variation, and quite good.

    Her son, Miguel Bose, is a favorite of Almodovar’s.

  5. He’s also in Suspiria

  6. David Boxwell Says:

    Like mother, like son: his “Lethal” in HIGH HEELS is a vision of haute glam!!!

    Can’t fathom how she was only 18 in CRONACA DI AMORE with my main man Massimo.

  7. RIP Michael Sarrazin and Elizabeth Sladen.

  8. RIP Tim Hetherington.

  9. And RIP Angela Scoular, funniest of all Bond girls.

  10. OH! Loved her in A Countess From Hong Kong and Casino Royale

  11. According to The Guardian she had developed cancer and was rumoured to have taken her own life. Terribly sad.

  12. david wingrove Says:

    Ah, the lovely Michael Sarrazin…the sexy Frankenstein monster, ex Mr. Jacqueline Bisset and star of one of my favourite trash movies, MASCARA.

    For the 99.99999% of the human race who have never seen it MASCARA is a Belgian thriller (!) with Sarrazin as an opera-loving transvestite who has an incestuous passion for his sister (Charlotte Rampling). They hang out at an underground S&M drag club called Mr. Butterfly. The cast also includes real-life transsexuals Romy Haag and Eva Robins.

    The whole movie is a cult waiting to happen. I still have an aged VHS of it, so perhaps a memorial screening is in order?

  13. Sounds scrumptious.

  14. david wingrove Says:

    And that’s putting it mildly.

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