Title: Le Notti Bianche
Genre: Drama, Romance
Director: Luchino Visconti
Suso Cecchi D’Amico
based on the novel of Fyodor Dostoevsky
Music: Nino Rota
Cinematography: Giuseppe Rotunno
Visconti’s cinematic adaptation of Dostoevsky’s short story WHITE NIGHTS, LE NOTTI BIANCHE, transposed in an unspecified Venice-emulating town, but shot entirely inside the Cinecitta studio, signposts an emphatic deviance from his neorealism root, and emerges as a swooning melodrama centers on a bizarre love triangle.
A johnny-come-lately to the town, the lonesome young man Mario (Mastroianni), alights on a similarly lonely young woman Natalia (Schell), who is waiting for the promised return of her lover (Marais), every night in the same place after their one-year separation. Mario is smitten with her in the first sight, and his good-natured persona slowly makes a reluctant Natalia relent, he is safe in her friend’s zone, together she tells him how she falls head over heels for her beau, and every day she is tormented by the trepidation over the pending rapture or disillusion (an outcome totally out of her control), Mario’s presence brings a ray of hope in her, and perhaps, she is able to reciprocate his affection, one day, when she will finally get over the man who deserts her.
In this nocturnal fable, Visconti palpably husbands its stagey setting into a mist of yearning, melancholia and ambiguity, and on that vast canvas, Schell and Mastroianni enterprisingly emanate their characters’ emotional gamut to the fore, an poignantly expressive Schell reifies the purest form of love’s irrational wavelength, submerges herself into an almost trance-like whirlpool from which no one else but that man of her desire can extricate her; whereas an assiduous Mastroianni, outstandingly animates the diametrical switcheroo from delight to disenchantment of a man bewitched by an unrequited love, who bookends the film with a heart-rending resignation of the kismet as someone’s second best.
To rationalize Natalia’s out-and-out capitulation to her crush (and to resist an impeccably appealing Mastroianni), Visconti bestow a chiseled Marais a pall of mystique that is at once dangerous and scintillating, shorn of any contextual information (no name is referred), he is the emblem of a man’s immanent appeal to the opposite sex; meantime, Clara Calamai’s supporting turn as a desperate streetwalker is counterpoised as a biting undertow aiming at the gender and age discrimination in the milieu.
Aesthetically, the infectious dancing-in-the-bar spectacle potently tempers the story’s innate mawkish overtone and points up Visconti’s ambidexterity in construction of both action and mood, a stylishly romanticized dissection of that senseless little thing called love.