This major early achievement by Michelangelo Antonioni bears the first signs of the cinema-changing style for which he would soon be world-famous. Le amiche (The Girlfriends) is a brilliantly observed, fragmentary depiction of modern bourgeois life, conveyed from the perspective of five Turinese women. As four of the friends try to make sense of the suicide attempt of the fifth, they find themselves examining their own troubled romantic lives. With suggestions of the theme of modern alienation and the fastidious visual abstraction that would define his later masterpieces such as L’avventura, L’eclisse, and Red Desert, Antonioni’s film is a devastating take on doomed love and fraught friendship.
Michelangelo Antonioni’s Le amiche comes to Blu-ray from Criterion in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1. The new 1080p/24hz high-definition presentation comes from a new 2K restoration taken from the original 35mm negative and was performed by L’Immagine Ritrovata in 2008.
The restoration itself has been very good and damage and flaws are fairly minimal. The frame shifts here and there and there are a couple of fluctuations, but these are not too common and the image is very clean otherwise.
The picture we get is also fairly filmic though I can’t help but feel it has maybe been polished over just a bit much. Though grain is present (if faint) there is still a bit of a smoothness to the image, particularly in faces, and detail levels rarely pop, lending a slight softness to the whole affair. I am also unsure of the contrast and brightness levels of the image: the gray scale seems very limited in range throughout most of the film, giving the image a rather flat look, almost monotone, and black levels don’t seem particularly strong as well. This could be intentional, or an issue with the source, but then at the same time it lends the film that polished look I mentioned earlier and it doesn’t seem natural. Whatever the case may be I still found the picture to be film-like and it’s nowhere near the mess that is Earrings of Madame de… (far, far from it) but there is a processed look in the end result, even if it's just slight.
The lossless Italian PCM mono track has a few limitations because of the film’s age: it’s a bit flat, a bit tinny at times with a little bit of noise here and there, but otherwise clean, without any severe issues like drops, pops, or clicks.
Criterion goes light on this one with supplements, first starting with a conversation about the film between film scholars David Forgacs and Karen Pinkus. The two talk about this adaptation of a novella by Cesare Pavese and the various changes made, either because they had to be made (like the reasoning for the one character’s suicide attempt) or because Antonioni wanted to focus on other subjects or themes (like alienation). Though the film is certainly more “accessible” than some of his later films, the two point out that his style and language does show through here, and he does do quite a few unconventional things (at least for the time) in editing and framing, and the photography is impeccable. Though it’s a decent enough scholarly piece it’s unfortunately terribly dry and hard to stay engaged with, at least on my end.
I found myself far more engaged with Eugenia Paulicelli’s interview. Here she talks about how fashion plays out in Antonioni’s work, with a special focus in this film. Antonioni kept up with fashion (with Italian fashion making a splash around the time of this film) and he paid a lot of attention to how he dressed his characters and how what they represented in the characters. Paulicelli is a more energetic speaker and seems to be more impassioned by the subject matter she covers, so she ends up being more engaging than the two in the previous feature.
And then that’s sadly it for disc features. The insert offers a an essay by Tony Pipolo, who offers a much more engaging contribution looking at how the film leads into Antonioni’s later works.
Though I enjoyed Paulicelli’s contribution I don’t feel I took away a lot from this.
Ultimately I wasn’t overly enthusiastic with this release. The presentation is ultimately fine but nothing I was too excited about, and the supplements are slim and ultimately disappointing.