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Clelia comes from Rome to her native Turin, to set up a new fashion salon. On her first night, the woman in the next room of her hotel takes an overdose of pills. Clelia becomes involved with this woman, Rosetta, and three of her rich women friends, Momina, Nene, and Mariella. Momina is older than the others, and lives apart from her husband. Her current lover is Cesare, the architect of Clelia's salon. Nene is a talented ceramics artist, and lives with her fiance, the painter Lorenzo. Mariella is a flighty woman only interested in having a good time. Clelia becomes attached to Carlo, the architect's assistant, but the other women look down on him as he comes from a working class background. Momina, with the help of Clelia, discovers that Rosetta fell in love with Lorenzo as he was painting her portrait. Momina then encourages Rosetta to go after Lorenzo, even though he and Nene were supposed to marry soon. Written by
Michelangelo Antonioni's tale of postwar Italian women in the big city trying to make right their loves and their lives is a powerful and moving melodrama that does not rely on as much high-strung emotion scenes as you would initially think. The film begins with a captivating establishing shot of the skyline of Turin, a smaller Italian city that nevertheless is bustling and adapting to the incredible changes Italy experienced after the devastation of World War II. Now, women are at nearly the same level as men in terms of work placement and influence in the community.
The connection to the audience is Clelia, who has moved to Turin from Rome to run a new salon. She immediately conflicts with two men, one who is the architect of the salon and the other a painter while falling for another, he being the architect's assistant. Soon, she has endeared herself to a small group of closely-knit friends who seem to know or at least suspect all of each other's secrets. Because she is an outsider, we are able to view this group in the same way she does. Some of these people we sympathize with such as Lorenzo the painter who is married, has a suicidal mistress who loves him deeply yet still remains terribly unhappy. What we are left with is a touching tale of women finding this new world in which they occupy terribly different and exciting.
Fashion is a big part of this story, which Antonioni seems to use as a way of showing the shell in which these characters protect themselves to avoid true emotional commitment. Some will dislike the film for being somewhat soapy and relying too much on subplots that are irrelevant to the overall story, but here Antonioni is establishing themes and techniques he would use in later films that now define his style. Alienation, ambiguous emotions and indifferent attitudes are ever present here, which gives us a different flavor of a melodrama than American films tend towards. Besides the important themes Antonioni presents, his craft is also engaging, showcasing his rising talent that would make him a staple of world cinema.
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