I DELFINI begins with a voice-over by Anselmo (Gérard Blain) whose writing talent has allowed him to see and describe the story's events as they truly are. The subsequent flashback structure for a film of this type is not typical, but it works very well to create immediate viewer involvement. Anselmo, along with his sister, Elsa, and several friends are the "Delfini" of this town (filmed in Ascoli Piceno)-- that is to say they are the "Dauphins", a kind of perceived royal family who are above all the rest because of their wealth and beauty. Led by Anselmo and Alberto (Tomas Milian)--both extremely volatile personalities--the Dauphins live a life of idle luxury, going from one party or love affair to another without finding much meaning in any of it. A couple of them talk of escaping the town, but never make a decisive move. The first important event in the film concerns the return of Marina (Anna-Maria Ferrero) who had been Anselmo's girlfriend. Her much anticipated arrival contains deep disappointment: she does love him, she says, but instead wanting to escape from the town she has decided to use her recently inherited wealth to go into business. Not only does Marina plan to go into business, she plans to partner with Anselmo's father and she invites the son to join them. The young man's hatred for his father is a key factor in his life. He wishes not only to leave behind the town, but his father as well. Thus, a seemingly permanent rift has been created by Marina's news. This is just one of numerous ironies in I DELFINI. Almost nothing in the lives of this film's characters goes as they expect it to go. In the opening sequence, we are shown Fedora (Claudia Cardinale), a working-class girl who longs to join the ranks of the Dauphins, dreaming of their privileged existence. A fortunate romantic alliance with Dr. Corsi (Sergio Fantoni), a lodger in her home, garners an invitation to one the Dauphin's legendary parties. Almost immediately, the doctor sees that Fedora is more interested in immersing herself in the decadence of the Dauphins than she is him. Fedora is swept off her feet (after violent protest) by the handsome ladies' man Alberto and is lost in a delirium of sports cars and illicit sex. After a reckless, nail-biting experience in Alberto's car and a frank motel room discussion, Fedora realizes that Alberto, like most of the other people in this story, is nothing more than a child who refuses to grow up. A disillusioned Fedora must now face a harsh reality: she is pregnant with Alberto's child. Now trapped by the very thing she thought she wanted, Fedora must listen to her mother's insistence that she marry Alberto to save face in the gossip-driven town. Another character, Contessa Cherè (Betsy Blair), is an older, sexually liberated member of the Dauphins. She lusts after Dr. Corsi and even begins an affair with him, only to realize he carries a torch for Fedora. Cherè has her own ironies to reveal. The young people in this film have bad parental models: broken marriages, infidelity, scandal. Perhaps this is at the core of their own inability to escape the small-town mentality that they despise, yet also exhibit in their own ways. Can any of them ever really escape? This ironic and very pessimistic film has something to say about the human capacity for self-dissatisfaction and the frustrated need for real connection to another. The acting performances are uniformly good, especially those of Blain, Cardinale, Fantoni and Blair. Widescreen black and white cinematography is used to good effect for locations and for the often claustrophobic interior scenes that seem to express the characters' sense of entrapment. The film also features one of Giovanni Fusco's more effective music scores.
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