I Knew Her Well

| February 11, 2016

It is not uncommon for even the biggest foreign films of the past to get lost in the shuffle. Nor for American films, either. The original cut of Orson Welles’ ‘The Magnificent Ambersons’ has sadly been forever lost. With this in mind, it is no surprise that the world is unaware of Italian director Antonio Pietrangeli. Or his lost (and last) masterpiece ‘I Knew Her Well’.

In Italian, ‘I Knew Her Well’ translates to ‘Io Lo Conoscevo Bene’. The native tongue rhythmically accents the ‘o’ in each word, turning the title into a sort-of pop song. A pop song exactly like the one, or well many, that literally sing out the ambitions and emotions of Andriana. Andriana moves to Rome in hopes of becoming a movie actress. Starting as a country girl with just a pretty face and figure, the coveted breakthrough to stardom is difficult to establish. Thus, Adriana takes various opportunities with the sleaziest agents and sleeps with any charmer who promises fame. This fast 60’s Roman life starts to wear not soon after it began. Yet, as long as the music plays, even sadness for Adriana can be hummed into a happy tune.

Stefanina Sandrelli, or ‘Adriana’, was 19 at the time of filming. Previously she had made a name as the seductive ‘Angela’ in Pietro Germi’s ‘Divorce: Italian Style’ and as the lead ‘Agnese’ in the director’s follow-up ‘Seduced and Abandoned’. The strength of Sandrelli, as seen in her previous roles and especially ‘I Knew Her Well..’, is the ability to literally act her age. The grace seen in the easily charmed and adolescently charming Adriana is, the audience would imagine, only available in the abilities of an older actress. Whether pensive or playful, Sandrelli proves that such beliefs are entirely of myth.

Pietrangeli was known to craft narratives around the role of women in the rapidly booming Italy of the 1960’s. While ostensibly such growth portends liberalization for the traditional oppressed, the director is unconvinced. Thus continuing the archetype established during 40 and 50’s Neorealism, a protagonist’s hope of escaping inherent faults never ends in success. Try as she might, Adriana will never be unwilling to come under a seduction that will, inevitably, prevent the fame so desired.

Fellini criticized paparazzi playboy journalists. Antonioni illuminated the existential crisis of modern society. And Pasolini saw Consumerism as worse than Fascism. Antonio Pietrangeli, a disciple of another Neorealist giant Luchino Visconti, is no exception to this cultural cinema. While not as polished as his contemporaries, the objectives of Pietrangeli’s work are pleasantly stylish and well crafted to exigencies of the time.

Fortunately, thanks to the efforts of Luce Cinecitta, we are able enjoy this entertaining contribution to Italian cinema.

About the Author:

Daniel currently resides in New York City working as a freelance writer and director. He is a graduate of the Film and Video department of Columbia College, specializing in Italian Neo-realism and French & British New Wave cinema.
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