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LE NOTTI BIANCHE
1957 - Luchino Visconti
Italy / France
96
Opening Shot

A bus pulls into its stop and several passengers exit together. Having just spent the day in the country they are set to return home. Among them is a lone traveler who continues wandering through the streets in what is a very late evening...

The Film

Few films capture a sense of romantic longing as dreamy as this heartbreaking and beautiful film. Adapted by Italian Neorealist Luchino Visconti from Fyodor Dostoyevsky's short story 'White Nights', Le Notti Bianche tells the story of two lonely souls who meet by chance. While the film takes on a surreal dreamlike quality that is rare of the most essential socially-aware neorealist films, there is an emotional truth that is is undeniably evident. Like the best best of Alfred Hitchcock, Le Notti Bianche creates a world of artificial reality. Shot entirely with sets the dreamy atmosphere of the set design counter with the emotional reality of the characters experience. The centerpiece of the set design is the image of the canal bridge where the two characters meet, and as a symbol it represents one of the films defining emotional expressions, which is that of time (the past and the present). Marcello Mastrioanni and Maria Schell are so perfect together in this film. Mastrioanni really surprises as here he sort of plays against his type, but Schell is especially standout as Natalia, a sad woman who is haunted by promise from a lover. This simple romantic tale takes on multiple complex layers because of its emotional depth and because of the way the film finds its beauty in the smallest of moments. This film marked a pivotal change in style for Visconti, and while he has made some great films both before and after, Le Notti Bianche stands as my favorite.

The Filmmaker

Of the three definitive filmmakers in the Neorealist Italian cinema movement (Roberto Rossellini, Luchino Visconti, and Vittorio De Sica) Visconti stands as my personal favorite. Visconti had an approach that is different and ultimately more effective then those of the era. Visconti uses the social realism context as the background rather then the central focus. He would use this backdrop to define the inner struggles of the films characters rather then placing the social reality at the center. What this allowed Visconti to do was ultimately more free and independent as a filmmaker and particularly as a visual stylist. Of the realist filmmakers, Visconti's films undoubtedly had the most control of visual expression, composition, and camera movement. He also was able to make films of contemporary and historic periods as well as blending in elements of traditional romance and epic filmmaking (to view his vast range at capturing a diverse essence of neorealism, compare Visconti's La Terra trema or Rocco and His Brothers to his The Leopard or Death in Venice). Above all Visconti was an elegant master of the visual composition and detail. He would use long tracking shots and camera movements with specific environments and objects to capture the essence of morality and character. Visconti's debut film in 1943 (Ossessione) is an adaptation of James Cain's novel The Postman Always Rings Twice. It is a film that in many ways is considered the very start of Neorealism in it's use of settings and themes, but it also proved Visconti's unique quality as a filmmaker. His later work would prove more significant (including his 1948 Le Terra trema which stands as an essential neorealist film, as well as his beautiful 1957 masterpiece Le Notti Bianche, a film that marked a turning point in the direction of his career). Visconti's films are often dreamy, cynical, romantic, and tragic all within the same time.

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