Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Another Italian discovery: La Lunga Notte del '43

"I was surpised at how much I enjoyed THE LONG NIGHT OF '43 - it was not at all what I was expecting from a "war movie" (which is what I thought it was) let alone a Belinda Lee movie", so says my friend Melvelvit (from IMDB). It is certainly a big re-discovery for me, as I saw it back in 1967 when I was 21 as an older friend then took me to see it at London's National Film Theatre so many thanks to Guy Tremlett for introducing me to the NFT, - I more or less lived there in the '70s; this film though never showed up anywhere since.

Florestano Vancini made his debut with this 1960 drama, a potent mix of illicit romance and politics, set in Ferrara [Antonioni's home town] as the Fascists tighten their grip to maintain control. Belinda Lee is the wife of a crippled pharmacy owner who spends his time looking out the front window in the apartment above the pharmacy where she works at the till - so he sees too much. At the cinema she meets old flame Gabriele Ferzetti, who is hiding with his family, and they embark on a romance. The personal and the political come to a climax one long night in that December 1943. A wartime atrocity occurs [several prominent locals are rounded up and shot including Ferzetti's father], pushing the two lovers in very different directions. A coda, set in present-day 1960, plays out bitterly but beautifully, jettisoning romance in favor of a grim reminder that the murderers are still among us. It's a remarkable finish to a very compelling film. The leads are excellent; Pier Paolo Pasolini is one of the credited screenwriters, its from a story by Giorgio Bassani, author of THE GARDEN OF THE FINZI-CONTINIS.

The film brought director Vancini a "Best First Work" award at the Venice Film Festival in 1960, and according to my other IMDB pal Jorge, he is now resident in Brazil. Jorge by the way is looking forward to seeing a copy of this.

Gabriele Ferzetti, the same year as L'AVVENTURA, plays another selfish, hollow man here [and he is still working, playing the patriarch in my 2010 favourite I AM LOVE, 2000s label], while Belinda Lee in one of her last roles (before that fatal car crash in 1961) shows what a loss she was - she is a compelling actress here jettisoning most of her glamour - quite a contrast to her Rank Organisation or sword-and-sandal peplum roles. Deglamorised and playing an ordindary Italian woman she is like a young Magnani or Loren, and shows how her career could have gone if fate had been different. It is a very engrossing film with the central massacre sequence being brilliantly staged. One of my re-discoveries of the year then.

It has been interesting too catching up with 2 of Belinda's peplums: the 1957 APHRODITE GODDESS OF LOVE, and her last film CONSTANTINE AND THE CROSS with Cornel Wilde, released in 1962.

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