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 seems to adjust his visual style with his subject matter. In the very slow 'Red Desert', which is more or less a dissertation on how industrial surroundings inspire fatigue, the camera (as I recall) moved rarely.
Contrast 'Red Desert' with 'Le amiche', a nearly plot less gem. In doing so we begin to appreciate Antonioni's visual plan. In 'amiche', the camera is frequently moving; scenes typically begin with people passing through the frame and the cutting is brisk. The visuals perfectly match the overall theme of glib, upper-class, attractive adults stumbling into love and reacting to heartache. Just as the characters are free from the burdens the working class endure, so too Antonioni's camera work is free and lively.
Visually, 'Le amiche' is striking; superb. The cast is very strong (and beautiful). The economic class consciousness is also a powerful subtext.
Modern audiences may chuckle at how often (and nearly everywhere) the characters smoke cigarettes. They smoke at home, at their workplaces, restaurants, diners, fashion salons, hotel lobbies, outdoors and indoors. Was there any place where smoking was not allowed in 1950s Italy?
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