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A nameless, homeless and rejected man who is looking for a new life and a young boy from an impoverished family, who is forced to steal when he loses the milk money. These two come together in the same hiding place.
Two distinctly dislike-able characters circle one another amid the nicely photographed Venice and Rome locations; unable to break away, unable to be together it seems, but wrecking the lives of those around them. It's a promising scenario, a glamorous setting, a combination of strong cast, top name director and highly rated cinematographer. One could easily imagine Antonioni at the helm with Monica Vitti and Marcello Mastroianni as the stars. But it's not them and it really doesn't work. In the male lead role Stanley Baker is well cast as an out-of-place writer from the Welsh Valleys who's made it big with one book and now lives on an Island near Venice, the new darling of the in-crowd. He's big, bluff and rugged with undeniable presence and a convincing aura of potential violence. He isn't exactly nice to know, but you get the feeling that the right woman could bring him round. Virna Lisi as his fiancée is that woman. A Beautiful, fragile, extremely desirable character, she clearly loves him despite being well aware of his many flaws. So what on earth Baker's character finds in love-rival Eva is the huge stumbling over which this whole movie falls. Disbelief can only be suspended to a degree. Eva isn't the sort of woman to bring out the best in anyone. She's clearly supposed to be some kind of irresistible sexual predator who the ex coal miner cannot resist but she's portrayed as frankly repellent. A pouting, scornful, self obsessed gold-digger who plays off lovers against pretend-husbands. She treats Baker's character with taunting disdain at every turn and yet he follows her like an eager lap-dog. Her character might, just might, have worked if an actress of spectacular sexual allure had been cast. Instead Eva is played by Jeanne Moreau. She's a fine actress but she has nothing of the Machiavellian Femme Fatale that the role absolutely demands. Take a look at the poster/DVD sleeve photo of her with cigarette dangling from a sour, down-turned mouth. It's clear this is an actress who's screen persona is more Bette Davis than Brigit Bardot - more Rachael Roberts than Julie Christie. She plays the role with conviction but cannot communicate the essential level of sex-appeal to make the story work, even when the demure camera work teases us with extended near- views of her undressing(this is an early 60s film, so explicit it's never going to be, a lot of wardrobe doors and bath taps are strategically positioned) it all just looks more sordid than sexy. It's just not her role and no amount of beautifully filmed scenes of a wintry Venice, or glamorous parties, or stylised interiors or Alfa Romeo sports cars can overcome that. There is also some poor direction of the actors - of Baker in particular, who gets a bit too over- Shakespearian in his emoting at times (early on - the hand clawing at the face...no Stan, you were better than that, much better) and a few scenes which are simply too set-up to be plausible.In the end its not a film that holds the attention, the characters are too unsympathetic to feel any connection with and although there are moments of poetry , as a whole it's a plodding misfire. My apologies to all fans of Miss Moreau - no offence, very few actresses could have made this role work.
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