Blu-ray Review: I Knew Her Well, The Criterion Collection

I Knew Her Well
Directed by Antonio Pierangeli
Starring Stefani Sandrelli, Enrico Maria Salerno, Ugo Tognazzi, Mario Adorf, and Jean-Claude Brialy
Criterion Collection Release Date: February 23, 2016

From the film’s erotic opening that begins with a panning camera religiously observing from toe-to-head the delicate, beautiful, porcelain skin of Adriana as she obliviously basks in the morning or afternoon sun (time hardly matters to her) and who has an unswerving intent to meet up after with one of several men she easily attracts, one would scarcely be able to decipher a dull moment in the life of Adriana. Music, cocktails, parties and affairs are just as common as breathing and sleeping.

If only the camera could burrow a few inches deeper and penetrate her soul we would be spectators to a profound emptiness. But like the men in her life the camera observes her from a distance, simply admiring her beauty and only on rare occasions wanting to know her well.

Seldom has a film depicted a woman’s overwhelming discontentedness as accurately as director Antonio Pietrangeli‘s 1965 Italian film I Knew Her Well. He confidently approaches what could easily be a redundant subject matter and makes it his own. Stemming from the masterpieces that were strictly reserved for detailing the male’s insatiable appetite for more life and love, Pietrangeli takes what powerhouse directors Federico Fellini and Michelangelo Antonioni did so beautifully (depicting man’s insufferable ennui) and alters the perspective to fully focus on a specific woman’s nightly escapades, daily ennui, and her hopeless journey to not only sustain love but at least discover a small remnant of it. The film is incessantly engaging as it never tends to exploit its subject matter, investing in it the utmost care, all the way up to its shattering climax, with an ambition to completely understand its main character, the beautiful and naive Adriana (Stefani Sandrelli).

It is a gorgeous performance to behold. Sandrelli displays both the bombastic side and the melancholic side of Adriana with absolute command. Whether it is getting elegantly made-up to attend a robust and fancy party to acknowledge Italy’s most successful and highest paid actor, or if it is simply beholding Adriana alone in her apartment listening to her vinyl in absolute loneliness, Sandrelli adequately exposes the vulnerability and naiveté that her character harbors.

The film simply follows, one after the other, the interactions Adriana has with several men while she pursuits her dreams of becoming an actress. She is seeking a love that maybe none of the men can truly offer her, but she is relentless in her pursuit. Maybe acting can fill her void? Her pursuit of movie stardom isn’t the main focus, but in parts of the film it does occupy, Pierangeli paints a sordid image of Adriana’s ideal, and the results are pertinent. Especially in a scene where Italy’s highest paid actor, Roberto (Enrico Maria Salerno), demands his manager (Ugo Tognazzi) to fetch Adriana for him or the part when Roberto exploits his manager’s desires to become an actor himself, making him tap dance to the point of exhaustion just to entertain a producer.

No one in this film is happy. There is, though, a specific moment in the film where Adriana seems truly content, and it is with a bashful young boy. He is the son of the man who owns Adriana’s apartment complex. The boy comes to her room one day to deliver some mail and a message. He likes Adriana a lot. It is a crush we all experienced at one point in our childhood. She knows this, and taking him by the hand to slow dance with him we feel that both are experiencing some emotion that has been completely foreign to them. The scene ends promptly with the boy too overwhelmed with what just transpired. It is beautiful to watch Adriana’s reaction during this scene.

Characters, especially in Italian cinema, that resemble Adriana’s seem to attract such an audience. Maybe it’s the elegant lifestyle that we all somewhat yearn for or it could be the restlessness we all feel at one point in our lives. What is most of all glaring, though, in all of these characters is their personal code they totally adhere to. Undoubtedly these are characters that we can relate to and witnessing them endure, fail, and persist, and endure, fail, and persist, there is something to be said about their mentality: they are certainly human. These may be the most human characters that the entire cinema has to offer.

**** out of ****

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