When I watched this black and white film, I kept getting the feeling like I should have seen this earlier in my life, 相逢恨晚的感觉, except that I can hardly say I have many years before me to spare so… Well, ‘Le Amiche’ (The Girlfriends), a 1955 film by Antonioni, tells the story of a young woman, Clelia, who returns to her native Torino to open a fashion boutique. She gets drawn unexpectedly into a meaningless and decadent world of young women who represent the upper-middle class of rich, bored and shallow socialites (think Paris Hilton by today’s standards). These women are portrayed as beings with hollow souls, who are lonely, empty and seek meaning through men and fashion, very frivolous things indeed.
There’s always this sense of impending doom, or a sense that nothing is going to come out of nothing in the various interpersonal and romantic relationships of the characters. The men are all supporting cast, and that works perfectly fine because the overarching concern in this film is that of feminine anxiety, and how human relationships are so fragile. We need to feel close with someone, yet when it boils down to it, nothing is concrete and it could be as dynamic and doomed to fail as quickly as it started, all those sparks of love and romance.
When we are lonely, we tend to fall in love more easily, I guess. But very often, we tend to forget that reality or the conditions and limitations of reality are always ready around the corner to lock and trap us back into our own sad shells that we’ve set up to protect ourselves. Rosetta, for instance, falls in love with her friend Nini’s husband, a bitter artist who feels overshadowed and who’s jealous of his wife’s artistic acheivements. This love obvously won’t come to fruition, as the married artist lover loves himself way too much and is not brave enough to leave everything that he has with Nini to be with Rosetta. I thought Rosetta should have known this right from the start, but the truth is, when you’re caught up in being in love and imagining that you’re in love, such simple truths escape you like the wind caressing your ears.
Similarly, Clelia falls in love with the architect’s assistant, who has very different tastes from her and who’s not as accomplished as her. It led me to think how sometimes very different people can also share moments of love and tenderness, but when the daylights of reality hit right back in your eyes, the glaring differences that might have before seem negligible, rush at your every senses like needles being poked into your skin. And you realise that being by yourself is actually much better, even if you may always be longing for something more with that somebody.
So you see, Antonioni is a genius. He juggled 10 characters in the film with such sensitivity and creativity, and at the end of it, he carved not just a portrait of a group of decadent, hopeless and self-absorbed women, but also painted a picture of deeper feminine feelings of fear, helplessness and loneliness. Very very excellent film.