Videophiled: ‘Adua and Her Friends’

Adua
Raro

Adua 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.

Simone Signoret and Sandra Milo
Simone Signoret and Sandra Milo

 

Pietrangeli has great empathy for women (based on the evidence of this film and his 1964 La Visita) and his story frames the sexual double standards and cultural chauvinism of their lives. Those are the kinds of forces that good intentions and elbow grease can’t always overcome. But between the arguments and setbacks, Pietrangeli offers a portrait of life lived in hard times and buoyed by friendship and hope for a better life. When Marilina’s young son moves in (the girls didn’t even know she was a mother), they coalesce in a kind of family. The scene of the boy’s baptism, with the women lined up like adoring aunts, is a lovely and touching moment. There are no happy ending fantasies here but their moments of triumph, solidarity, and defiance are oases in a life that otherwise has it out for their dreams of self-definition.

Raro first released the film on DVD in 2011. This marks the Blu-ray debut and it looks very good, clean and sharp with lots of detail, and sounds great. Its score is informed by fifties cool jazz (and I’m a sucker for any soundtrack featuring the vibes) and dotted with pop songs (including a great use of Santo and Johnny’s instrumental “Sleepwalk”). It features an introduction by Italian film historian Maurizio Poro, the short film Girandola 1910, a segment from the 1954 anthology comedy Amori de mezzo secolo directed by Pietrangeli, and a booklet with essays, excerpts essays and reviews, and filmographies.

More releases on Blu-ray and DVD at Cinephiled

Leon Morin, Priest on TCM

Criterion's DVD/Blu-ray debut

Jean-Pierre Melville made his reputation as a defiantly independent director of cool gangster thrillers, beginning with elegant, elegiac Bob le Flambeur (1955) and culminating in the austere masterpiece Le Samourai (1967), with Alain Delon as an existential assassin, and the heist classic Le Cercle Rouge (1970). But the director, who during World War II fought in the Resistance, worked for French intelligence in London and served in the Free French forces in the liberation of Italy and France, also made three films about life in Nazi-occupied France, including his debut feature Le Silence de la Mer (1947).

Léon Morin, Priest (1961), an adaptation of the semi-autobiographical novel by Béatrix Beck, was his second film about the occupation. The traditional details of the occupation–the physical presence of German soldiers on the streets, the black market, the activities of Resistance and the deportations of Jewish citizens–are in margins of the central story, and that, in an unexpected way, is the point. Life has become normalized, and what a strange, anxious normal it is, a disconnected existence on hold.

Jean-Paul Belmondo stars as the unconventional, at times radical young priest Léon Morin but you could say he is the object of the film while Emmanuelle Riva plays the subject: Barny, the young widow of a French Communist and a mother who sends her half-Jewish daughter France to the country to protect her from the Nazis. Riva’s Barny narrates in a pithy, matter-of-fact manner, offering simple facts (“Our city had been occupied by Italian troops,” she observes in the opening scenes, and later simply says “The deportations began”) with no personal commentary. She’s no Resistance fighter but neither is she a collaborator; she and her friends baptize their children as cover and perhaps it is her resentment at having to undergo such a ritual that inspires her, and atheist, to go to confession with the express purpose of telling off the new young priest.

Continue reading on Turner Classic Movies