23 February 2016 | lasttimeisaw
a diverting Italian romp carrying a scorching message
Italian screenwriter-director Antonio Pietrangeli died young at the age of 49, during a drowning accident while shooting COME, QUANDO, PERCHÉ (1969), and ADUA AND HER FRIENDS, perhaps is his most distinguished work treads the post-Neorealism soil with a broad comic vibe.
Adua (Signoret) and her three friends, more specifically, her workmates, Lolita (Milo), Marilina (Riva) and Milly (Rovere) are prostitutes, who are out of work due to the Merlin law, which made brothels illegal in Italy in 1958, together, they invest all their savings to open a trattoria in the suburbs of Rome, hope to start a new business and leave their dishonourable past behind, but a second chance seems to be a dashed dream for people like them. The restaurant business is thriving, at one time, their customer even includes the famed cantautore Domencico Modugno, but soon the reality check will catch up with these girls, a bleak coda shows that the society is not ready to welcome them back with warm arms.
The synopsis sounds rather despondent, but the movie is beguilingly infused with a boisterous commedia dell'arte sheen. The quartet itself doesn't hold together in the first place, Lolita is a hackneyed bimbo, gullible and care-free , who foolhardily believes in her swindling beau Stefano (Tedeschi); Marilina is the cynical one made up with plenty of bile and has an unbaptised son to care about; Milly, is an unassuming hard-worker, who is really close to a happy marriage with their one of their frequenters Emilio (Rais); finally Adua, the oldest and wisest among them, has a worldly perception but her ill-fated romance with a smooth-talking Italian Romeo Piero (Mastroianni, in his usual dashing and flirtatious flair) can only spell happiness is nothing but a dashed dream for her, Signoret again cement the scenes where superficial comedy head-butts with harsh realism.
Pietrangeli never shifts his sympathy towards these women of ill repute in his vigorous portrayal, even for Marilina (Riva is equipped with searing fierceness here), whose wanton behaviour initially occasions a fervent sense of objectionableness, but her hard edge begins to mellow once her son is back in her life. They are far from perfect, but at least, they try very hard to be self-sufficient, which is in sheer comparison with all the men in their lives, are either ignoble self-seekers, callous brutes or dreadful cowards, save for the layman priest (D'Amore). The condemnation is sublimated in the ending, where although only Adua is present, but if she is at her wits' end, it is not difficult to imagine what happens to the other three. On balance, the film is a diverting romp carrying a scorching message, deserves the attention of hardcore cinephiles.