Having never seen a pre-L’Avventura Antonioni, wasn’t sure what to expect with this one. Was determined, entering into it, not to give it any kind of privileged “Antonioni” reading. Really wanted to look at it simply as a text, a film, a whatever, apart from favoring a distinctly auteur-ial bent. So much for that. Watching Le Amiche, one wonders if Antonioni’s so-called “new film grammar” heralded in L’Avventura was simply the first time someone else noticed it. There’s certainly a unique visual grammar afoot in Le Amiche, although maybe not as developed as in Antonioni’s 60s films. The foregrounding and backgrounding of characters is constant; so much so that it almost becomes odd when two or more characters aren’t separated by depth of field in a shot. This distance keeps characters disconnected by cinematography and body language. While on the same plane of existence they’re never quite on the same page. Often other mis-en-scene emphasize the distance, such as colors, postures, lighting, and states of being (living and dead).
Images of alienation are ubiquitos, though that’s an Antonioni buzzword. Too, the “sickness of eros” is everywhere. Like the quadrilogy in the early 60s, Le Amiche centers on female characters who are bored and/or sick with regard to love. And like those later films, there is no one at all in this film with a healthy love life. The whole world is diseased. Contemporary eyes are prone to see just rampant stereotyping: women who base their identity on their men and men who get bored with their women after a little sex. These films of Antonioni’s, however, have an unflinching frankness about the details of erotic boredom and its consequences.
What may separate Le Amiche most from later Antonioni is its harshness. The film begins with a woman attempting suicide and failing. It ends with the same woman completing the act after an inability to move past the circumstances that caused the initial attempt. The film refuses a cheap solution, rather focusing on the darker, perhaps more real half of existence that many films would rather suppress. The ultimately successful suicide may be darker than necessary for Antonioni to get his point across. This narrative element is rendered darker still with many characters in the film joking about the woman’s ineptness even to kill herself. Further, the film does not end with the suicide, but continues just long enough to emphasize the rest of “le amiche” and their men. Just because one life has ended doesn’t mean that the story, and its very real-world correlations Antonioni draws, are over.