Il Bell’Antonio (1960)

12 04 2008

While certainly tied down by some conventions of the time period, this does come off as a very good, albeit very flawed example of post Neo-realist Italy cinema. While it certainly doesn’t live up to Antonioni or Olmi (who I personally regard as the greatest directors of the period) it doesn’t seem that far off. A lot of the plot development is a bit soap-operaish but on the technical side of things, it’s a bit more polished, which makes for a very pleasing experience, regardless of the many problems.

Antonio has returned home to Cantania after a three year period in Rome, and with him, comes a wide variety of sexual rumors. At parties, women giggle behind his back and imagine being with him. He remains oddly passive, though, at least until he encounters a picture of Barbara, who his parents wish to marry. He joyfully agrees but after they wed, they have nothing to look forward to. Both attempt to show their love for one another but the result always feels awkward. It is eventually revealed that Antonio is impotent, which leads to an annulment from the church.

The tongue-in-cheek twist threatens to destroy the passive tone that haunts the lovers’ happier moments from earlier on in the film. The complexity of Antonio is attempted to be “explained” by this silly plot twist. Thankfully, the tone is never shifted to a carefree Italian comedy, which it easily could have done. Instead it gracefully attempts to pry into the reactions of Antonio’s family. Here is where I would have preferred some slightly more personal moments. The protagonist seems to disappear every now and then just so the local reaction can be observed. This is unneeded and frankly, uninteresting. In one of the more embarrassing stretches, Antonio’s cousin, played by Tomas Milian, attempts to provide solace to his neglected relative. The overly-expressive dialogue does bog down the pace as well, and makes for some laughable monologues.

Overall, though, this is still a really nice movie even though I can’t completely love it. Perhaps it’s a personal interest in 60s Italy that makes me want to try to like movies that I could easily dismiss. This is not L’Avventura, this is not Il Posto, but one gets the feelings that it’s on the way there. The enjoyment of this film comes out of a greater love for those films. If you don’t like Antonioni, there’s no reason to watch a watered-down version, but if you do, you’ll still have to overlook some things to like this.

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