With many a dark shadowy street, Le Notti bianche (White Nights, 1957) has the look of a film noir, & is exceedingly beautiful visually.
It's a love story, however, with a Romanticist excess of tragic emotionalism. Great acting & beautiful sets keep it from seeming only a melodrama, but in the main, it's a melodrama, adapted from a short tale by Dostoyevsky.
Originally set in Russia, the setting shifts easily to an unspecific Italian town with canals, possibly a corner of Venice, in the weightily symbolic winter.
An attractive lonely guy, Mario (Marcello Mastroianni), meets an attractive weeping woman, Natalia (Maria Schell), on a bridge in maybe-Venice near midnight. He talks her out of her sad mood & walks her safely home, then saunters on whistling & glad.
With the gloomy night-photography & the Dostoyevskian cynicism, I thought the film would overcome my recurring disinterest in love stories. Any story well told can entertain me, & this one's so famous.
But I found Natalia to be a whining repulsive creature unworthy of anyone's obsession, & Mario for pursuing such a weak character was just stupid.
She returns nightly to the bridge where she awaits someone from her past. It's somewhat mysterious but I assumed such a whiny girl like her couldn't be waiting for anyone interesting.
Now & then in their night-time sorties along the canal, Mario & Natalia encounter homeless wretches, & the entire take on their romance is that it's cause for gloom, mere illusions of transient happiness in a world of agony.
This should have resounded with poetry. The problem is they were such dunces, & so deserved disillusion, & I could find neither delight that they found each other, nor sorrow that inevitably dreams fade.
[SPOILER ALERT!] Just when she's ready to accept his love & they embrace with happiness, that's the very moment the man she'd long awaited (Jean Marais) turns up at the bridge, a coincidence that beggars belief. She instantly tosses aside her new love for the sake of the old, & Mario's crushed.
The man with a cold glint in his eye seems hardly the sort who'd inspired the angst of crazed devotion in his absence. But then, neither was Natalie worthy of Mario's love, both were in love with an interior fantasy & not the flawed individuals outside themselves. Ultimately everyone has gotten both more & less than they deserve [END SPOILER ALERT].
Sometimes called a masterpiece of Italian neo-realism, it's really more of an anti-fairy-tale. And I'm sure it's just me, but I thought it was an awful film; an unhappy ending to the fairy tale, instead of the Hollywood version, was insufficient to offset banality. It can't be argued, though, that the photography is anything but handsome & Mastroianni's performance in particular deeply felt. The dog that frames the tale is also quite the touch.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl