Posted in: by Sean Axmaker, Contributors, Film Reviews, Seattle Screens

Seattle Screens: ‘I Knew Her Well’ and ‘Ran’ restorations

Stefania Sandrelli in ‘I Knew Her Well’

Antonio Pietrangeli is the greatest Italian filmmaker of the sixties you’ve never heard of and his bittersweet I Knew Her Well (1965), starring Stefania Sandrelli as a country girl in Rome trying to break into show business, is his masterpiece. Young and beautiful, Adriana (Sandrelli) is able to get by on her looks, taking temporary jobs between modeling gigs and screen tests, and she’s savvy enough to understand that sex is a commodity to be traded for favors from press agents, managers, and minor celebrities. But she’s far from cynical, at least at first, as she plays the game and enjoys the nightlife, and she’s even a bit naïve, constantly hooking up with charming, good-looking cads who have a habit of abandoning her. It’s episodic by nature, a series of snapshots from her life, and directed with the light touch of a frothy Italian comedy that belies the mercenary society and cruel behavior of the rich and successful.

Pietrangeli co-wrote the film with Ettore Scola (among others) and they offer a satirical portrait of the shallow celebrity culture and Roman nightlife of La Dolce Vita with both a more vicious edge—the callous treatment of a washed up actor (played by Ugo Tognazzi) is truly painful—and a breezy, easy style. The simple irony of the title isn’t hard to fathom. None of the men ever bothers to get to know Adriana at all, dismissing her as a silly beauty good for a one night stand, and Sandrelli plays her as a seemingly frivolous, capricious young woman with nothing on her mind, kind of Italian Holly Golightly without the cynical calculation. Yet she’s more perceptive than anyone realizes as she navigates the mercenary world with energetic optimism before she grows disillusioned in the final act of the film. Sandrelli has a kind of blank, oblivious beauty that makes her great casting for simple, silly, not-too-bright characters (see The Conformist) in her youth, and Pietrangeli uses that surface frivolity beautifully. She’s simply heartbreaking.

I Knew Her Well plays for four days at NWFF in a newly restored edition. Showtimes and tickets here.

The new 4K restoration of Ran (1985), Akira Kurosawa’s epic re-imagining of Shakespeare’s King Lear in sixteenth-century Japan, runs for a week at SIFF Cinema Uptown. Tatsuya Nakadai plays the aging warlord who divides his empire among his three sons and slips into madness as he is neglected, betrayed, and stripped of his dignity. Kurosawa is not merely true to Shakespeare’s story, he brings scenes alive with a cultural twist and a visual mastery, from the pageantry of warriors filling vast fields of green with red and white flags and uniforms to the howling storm that strikes during the warlord’s spiral into madness. The spectacle is brought home with delicately observed performances and beautifully sculpted relationships, an intimacy that gives the epic its soul. I haven’t seen the restoration but I imagine those colors are more vivid than ever. Chris Marker’s documentary A.K.: The Making of Akira Kurosawa’s Ran (1985), a profile of Kurosawa on the set of the film, also plays at SIFF Film Center.

Richard T. Jameson’s 1985 review is on Parallax View here.

Akira Kurosawa on the set of ‘Ran’

Jacques Becker’s Antoine and Antoinette (1947), the first film in SAM’s “Cinema de Paris” series, plays on Thursday, March 31 at Plestcheeff Auditorium. Individual tickets are available on the day of show on a first come, first served basis. Details here.

The Wim Wenders retrospective “Wim Wenders: Portraits Along the Road” this week presents Buena Vista Social Club (1999) at SIFF Film Center and Pina 3D (2011) at SIFF Uptown (both Wednesday, March 30) and Until the End of the World: Director’s Cut (1991) at NWFF (Thursday, March 31).

If you missed Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Cemetery of Splendor during its weeklong run at NWFF, it will be back for one night at SIFF Film Center on Monday, March 28.

The Cinerama is one of the only ten theaters in the country to show Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice in a 70mm film print. It will run for a week on film, and then revert to DCP on Friday, April 1, so celluloid junkies should make a plan for that first week. And remember: the Cinerama sells reserved seating so you may want to purchase in advance. The Cinerama webpage is here.

Visit the film review pages at The Seattle TimesSeattle Weekly, and The Stranger for more releases.

View complete screening schedules through IMDbMSNYahoo, or Fandango, pick the interface of your choice.

Posted in: Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, Contributors, DVD, Film Reviews

Videophiled: ‘Adua and Her Friends’

AduaAdua and Her Friends (Raro / Kino Lorber, Blu-ray) are prostitutes from a Rome brothel attempting to take charge of their own lives after their place is shut down in the aftermath of Italy’s Merlin Law, which ended legalized prostitution in 1958 (the film was released in 1960). Adua (played by Simone Signoret), a veteran of the life, has a plan to open a restaurant as a front for their own little brothel in the rooms upstairs and her friends—cynical and hot-headed Marilina (Emmanuelle Riva), naïve and trusting Lolita (Sandra Milo), and practical Milly (Gina Rovere)—pitch in for the purchase and start-up and fake their way through running a real business. Adua may be a dreamer but she has a lot invested in this project. She’s the oldest of the four and, as anyone familiar with the films of Mizoguchi will attest, life on the streets isn’t forgiving of age. But what really charges up the film is the feeling of accomplishment and ownership as they work their way through each problem and, almost without noticing, create a successful business out of the restaurant.

For all the stumbles along the way, director Antonio Pietrangeli and his screenwriting partners (which includes future director Ettore Scola and longtime Fellini collaborator Tullio Pinelli) don’t play the disasters for laughs but rather a mix of warm character piece and spiky social commentary. It’s not simply that their pasts follow them around but that the Merlin Law has actually made things worse for women, whether they remain in the life (without any legal protections) or attempt to transition into another career. Palms need to be greased and officials cut in on the business; they haven’t even started up and they’re already paying off a pimp. And no, it’s not Marcello Mastroianni’s Piero, a charming hustler who hawks cars and woos Adua, who enjoys engaging in a romance that she gets to define for a change. He’s a pleasant distraction and something of an ally, but he’s better at looking out for himself.

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Posted in: by Sean Axmaker, Contributors, DVD, Film Reviews

DVD: ‘La Visita’

La Visita/The Visitor (Raro Video)

Pina (Sandra Milo) is a lonely beauty in a small Italian town in the north, a successful and confident professional with her own business and a lovely home she shares with a pet dog, parrot, and turtle. Adolfo (François Périer) is a bookseller in Rome who answers her personal ad. As he takes the train north, their correspondence is read over the soundtrack: the voices of two single thirtysomethings making tentative steps to making a connection.

It’s a tender, delicate beginning of a tentative romance that slowly loses its sentimentality as we learn more about the two would-be lovers, but for all the edged humor and eccentric characters of Pina’s backwater village, The Visitor is neither satire nor romantic comedy. Director and co-writer Antonio Pietrangeli working from a script developed with Ettore Scola (who became a successful director in his own right) and frequent collaborator Ruggero Maccari (whose filmography includes the original Scent of a Woman), offers a much more layered and unexpected portrait in disappointment and resigned concession.

Milo’s Pina, whose caboose is, shall we say, cartoonishly overpadded to add a comic imperfection to the actress’ beauty (she practically waddles as she hustles about the streets), is a sweet, smart, accomplished woman in a provincial town who wants nothing more than to flee this prison of a home for the sophistication and opportunity of the city and the company of a husband. She bends over backwards to overlook her date’s arrogance, gluttony, vulgarity, and unmotivated cruelty toward her helpless pets. Périer’s Adolfo puts on a show of urban sophistication that evaporates in direct proportion to the amount of wine he knocks back, and he surreptitiously measures her home and even rearranges furniture to his liking, as if already taking residence as the man of the house. Hiding behind a brush mustache and insincere grin, Périer offers up Adolfo as a neat but unattractive man who imagines himself some kind of sophisticate gracing the provincial north with his cultured presence.

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