The Story Of A Love Affair Review
In 1950, Italian cinema was in the thrall of neo-realism as a young director made his debut feature. Appropriately, Story of a Love Affair is set within post war recession, capitalist exploitation and the reminders of Italian defeat in the second World War. This gritty setting is in contrast to the best of Antonioni's later films that would achieve maturity in their pointless searches and alienated beauty, where the distractions of wealth and consumerism are little recompense for the meaninglessness of the world. His later trademark characters would form attachments not because of love, but out of the fear of loneliness and the need to fill existence with something, anything. The worlds of L'Eclisse, L'Avventura and La Notte are ones of pending economic chaos where the wealthy await ruin with quiet desperation and where holocaust is as much an existing spiritual experience as an unsettling future fear.
Story of A Love Affair was some ten years before his cycle of masterpieces and after hearing a cursory description of the plot, it would be easy to categorise the work as a film noir. Adultery, secrets, money and murder are the noiresque engines of the story, but the film itself is characteristically less concerned with narrative and has a stronger social sensibility than the similarly plotted hollywood thrillers of the forties it resembles. As much as it is a love triangle thriller, Story of A Love Affair is more about the impossibility of fulfillment and the emptiness of these modern lives.
The story is put into motion by the insecurity of a rich man who finding he has a beautiful wife, Paola, and more money than he needs, will only be happy if he discovers the past his wife leaves unspoken. He engages a private detective who is soon digging into her poor background, looking for skeletons to please his client's interest, and consequently alarming Paola's former beau, Guido. The two former lovers had drifted apart after the mysterious death of Guido's fiancée - something they witnessed together. The investigation reunites the pair whose lives since have seen bored materialism and financial failure, and the long finished affair ironically starts again. When Paola becomes aware of her husband's efforts, she wishes aloud that his death would reunite her and Guido for good and the two lovers become driven by the desire for some kind of solution, and consequently make plans for the husband's demise.
The central characters in Story of a Love Affair become victims of their insecurity - the wealthy, if dodgy, industrialist, his once poor wife and her ruined lover. For the first of the three, his own lack of satisfaction with his success brings him the status of cuckold, and he finds that despite his material wealth growing his marital happiness proves false. For the wife who has married out of poverty and the curses of the past, she can not quite leave her material comfort for her romantic escape. And for the ruined Guido, he learns that if he can not kill for his lover she will no longer be his and if he does murder her husband she will not be able to share in the blame. The three parts of this love triangle find out that for all their efforts all they can achieve is to drive each other away.
Equal parts dark night of the soul and record of a wrecked and ravaged world, Antonioni's debut is less wistful than what followed in his career but his hallmark of capturing beauty and emptiness is apparent. Lucia Bose is a striking woman who all the furs in the world will not bring happiness to, and her scenes with Massimo Girotti wreak of desperation as their torrid relationship simply shames their dreams and fails to satiate their hunger. For all the glorious nightlife, the expensive dresses and the high fashion the world outside is bleak and broken with happiness destroyed by the very notion of looking for it.
Story of a Love Affair is a superb debut from one of the finest directors of the post war period. He and Fellini would drive Italian cinema away from neo-realism in very different ways. Antonioni would do this through exposing the failure of the material world to bring happiness to even the richest and the most beautiful whilst Fellini would explore the worlds of dreams and performance. Both in their way would break the stranglehold of narrative on cinema after their early attempts at more conventional form, but Story of a Love Affair is perhaps more successful than films like Variety Lights and the White Sheik as the message at its heart is better realised. The useless hopes of the lovers of Story of a Love Affair would inspire the director to even greater, more universal work, but this is a fantastic first film.
Over in the US, No Shame released this film last year and this Mr Bongo Films region free single layer release bears the same artwork and the same restored transfer, courtesy of Giuseppe Rotunno. The US release was criticised for being taken from a PAL source with evidence of conversions issues and I did wonder whether this transfer had been converted properly from that source as the same conversion issues are written larger here. The transfer is relatively sharp and the contrast levels are generally ok, but the image lacks some detail and the print shows some damage. There is evidence of ghosting, combing and motion shake, as well as some artefacting and sawtoothing. The screens I have taken of the film give a good idea of the visual quality and you can see it is far from poor, even with a suspicion that it may be a standards conversion of a standards conversion.
The audio comes in a English mono dub which is clearer and less worn than the original Italian mono track, which has soundtrack hum and regular hiss and pops. I have to say that I can't imagine wanting to watch this in an English dub, and found that the limitations of the Italian track including flatness and some distortion did not put me off too much. The accompanying optional English subs are well written and legible.
The extra features are limited to a picture gallery accompanied by the film's soundtrack music. The menus blend poster art and the bridge scene from the film and are straightforward to use.
An excellent debut comes to DVD and whilst the release is light on extras and the transfer is not perfect, this is better than could have been expected from such an unheralded company.
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