The esteemed Michelangelo Antonioni's first film is a world removed from his 1960s odes to alienation (L'avventura, L'eclisse) yet still shows his interest in the indefinable nuances of relationships. It has a lot in common with the then-dominant Neo-realist movement, but broad social concerns are not on its agenda. Story of a Love Affair might be a 1930s 'white telephone' movie sullied by postwar gloom.
Story of a Love Affair begins with a standard set of detective interviews that uncover only vague suspicions about Enrico's painfully beautiful wife. Ironically, the worried husband's actions create the situation he fears. Paola hasn't been in contact with the handsome and penniless Guido for years, but the investigation guarantees their coming together at just the wrong time. Back in their school days Guido and Paola were separated by his girlfriend, and as they wished her out of the way they've always felt guilty for failing to prevent her accidental death. Now Enrico's bourgeois suspicions bring them together for an affair that seems inevitable the moment they make eye contact.
They meet in rented rooms; Paola tries to find ways to help Guido earn some money, at one point arranging for him to be the middleman in a car sale that doesn't work out. Paola is very much like the fancy sports car that goes too fast for safety; Enrico immediately chooses a vehicle more reasonable for a wife. For Guido, the car is like Paola in that both are way out of his price range. Paola claims to want her freedom with Guido but has no intention of giving up a bit of her pampered lifestyle of high fashions and luxurious living.
All of this plays out in what must be the gloomiest industrial town in Northern Italy. Perpetual fog and rain keep Enrico's rich friends indoors at parties, restaurants and fashion shows. Paola dresses for Paris or Rome, and we wonder if her gowns and furs are ruined when she leans up against damp and sooty walls. Like an upscale version of Rossellini's Ossessione, Story of a Love Affair takes the form of a noirish murder tale. For Guido and Paola, someone is always in the way. 1
Antonioni works out his plot in a way that's decidedly anti-noir. (spoiler) The husband's panicked suspicions end up doing the lover's work for them, but their guilt and fear has risen to a level that they're too frightened to be together, just as it was back when Guido lost his fiancé. The murderous lovers in Ossessione become so corrupt, they just don't give a damn. Guido and Paola are react to danger like a pair of cowards.
The direction balances between the grim outside world with the luxuries of the spoiled Paola, who lives with the gloom yet doesn't have to deal with any of it. She's able to toss small fortunes at her problems and has jealous fits over a dress model with a slightest of connections to Guido. Guido wants Paola, all right, but is compromised by his diminished sense of self-worth. How can he possibly keep this pampered creature satisfied?
Story of a Love Affair shows the beginnings of an Italy in which the industrious wealthy have completely recovered from the postwar economic depression. Paola drives her fancy cars through streets crowded with ordinary working men, and seems out of place climbing dingy stairs in her designer furs. If anybody really cared, she and Guido would never be able to keep their affair a secret.
The established Massimo Girotti is a solid lead, and newcomer Lucia Bosé doesn't disappoint as one of the more legendary Italian beauties, before Loren, Cardinale and Vitti. She's nineteen playing a wife of 27, and something of a vision. Bosé reappeared with Girotti in the core neorealist film Roma ore 11, appeared in movies by Buñuel and Fellini and even scored as the lead in Jorge Grau's solid Spanish horror film Ceremonia sangrienta - 23 years later!
Story of a Love Affair wasn't an expensive movie; it's said that Antonioni got access to the fine clothing for Bosé by giving their designer a speaking role.
NoShame's DVD of Story of a Love Affair is a two-disc presentation. The B&W transfer is gray and sometimes a bit unstable but intact. The low-con look is probably correct for the time - we hear that lower-budget Italian films sometimes had to use a poorer-quality negative stock. The movie clocks in at the correct running time, indicating that the relatively new transfer was probably done HD and not simply converted from a PAL master, as was the case on two earlier NoShame releases. The show plays at a correct 24fps; nobody seems to be talking too fast.
The extras on the second disc are interesting, if a bit padded. There are three new documentaries based on interviews taken during a recent re-premiere screening of the film in Rome. Restoring a Masterpiece uses interview material with cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno and gets fairly technical about the advantages of digital restoration. An overlong show called Identification of a Masterpiece lets assistant director Francesco Maselli and a pair of film critics go on forever about Antonioni and the film and will sustain only the most avid Antonioni fan. Story of a Peculiar Night is a padded record of a press and VIP screening of the restored print that lasts half an hour and has interminable scenes of people filing in and out of the theater. In the middle are a few good moments with the wheelchair-bound, silent Michelangelo Antonioni and the still elegant Ms. Bosé, fifty-five years after the movie first opened. But there are minutes of unrewarding 'sound bite' blurbs from critics and notables (including Dario Argento) as they shuffle out of the screening room.
Yet another short, Fragments of a Love Affair shows the assistant director on site at various original shooting locations. It is followed by a still and poster gallery. A welcome booklet has two good interviews with Antonioni and a third with cameraman Rotunno.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Story of a Love Affair rates:
1. Massimo Girotti starred in Ossessione as well,
as a much different kind of character.