Thursday, July 21, 2016

I KNEW HER WELL (Io la conoscevo bene, 1965)

Fifty years after starring in Antonio Pietrangeli's film, Stefania Sandrelli offered what may be the best critique of it. Her character, the aspiring actress Adriana, jumps to her death from her upper-floor apartment at the end of the picture, no longer being able to cope with the humiliations of her existence. If it seems like an overdetermined moment to you, Sandrelli seems to agree. She doesn't think Adriana had to die, or necessarily would have killed herself, but "she had to die for the film to end." But if Io la conoscevo bene closes on a false note, there aren't many others in Pietrangeli's scathing satire. In many ways -- its episodic structure, its social surrealism -- it seems like a critique of Federico Fellini, its point being that la vita isn't so dolce for those less privileged than Marcello Mastroianni's characters. To the extent that Adriana's career is apparently ruined on a whim by a spiteful filmmaker, it takes a shot at the possibly misogynist vanities of 8 1/2 as well.

Adriana is a striver, first seen as a clumsy stylist -- literally first seen sunning herself on a garbage-strewn beach, actually -- who longs to be on screen. She has an agent who lands her dubious assignments that at least pay some bills, from shoe model for a TV commercial to traveling funiture ad on the roof of a car to fashion model during the intermission of a boxing card staged at an opera house, with some vast classical tapestry as a backdrop. For her these are important stepping stones, but others find her ambitions absurd. Why did she dress up so elaborately for the shoe commercial, for instance, when she'll only be seen from the ankles down?

Our heroine is just another rat in a hopeless race, it seems, and both she and the film itself are sympathetic to people in a similar plight like the good-natured boxer Lunk (a clean-shaven Mario Adorf), who gets battered on a regular basis because it's the only way he can earn money. His path and Adriana's cross all too briefly, but despite her apparent affinity for simpler, sweeter people like the local auto mechanic (Franco Nero), her ambition draws her into the orbit of less lovable losers. Gigi Baggini (Ugo Tognazzi) is a has-been and hanger-on with a big star who makes him perform a grueling tap dance at a party Adriana attends. Later, the star uses Gigi as a go-between with Adriana. When Adriana tells Gigi to have his master ask her out himself, in his own desperation not to take the blame, Gigi reports that Adriana simply rejected the idea of a date. That doesn't help Gigi, who's last seen desperately clinging to the great man's car, begging for a break, but his lie leads to Adriana's ruin. She was at the party in part to film an interview with the star that will be included in a newsreel to promote her career. Out of spite, the star edits the interview into an atrocity out of Merton of the Movies, portraying Adriana as an idiot and a slut with the bad taste to wear a plaster on the heel of her foot. Adriana doesn't see it coming, having gathered with her fellow usherettes at the local movie house to watch her big moment, only to be laughed out of the building. From there, for all intents and purposes, her fate is sealed.

I still can't help feeling that the film has her give up too easily -- she seems capable of greater perseverance --  but I suppose satire has its prerogatives, and the film has been fine enough up to this point for me to hold the ending against it too much. It isn't called I Know Her Well, after all, so we should have seen this coming. Whether it's past or present tense, the moral seems to be that no one knew her well, or ever will, though some may think they did. Whether Adriana really knew herself, or was simply playing a role at the fatal moment, is a question the film invites you to answer for yourselves.

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