Big Theater

Visconti and Mastroianni in Paris

On Saturday evening—as part of a four-week retrospective devoted to the illustrious career of Luchino Visconti, who was born today 111 years ago—the Cinémathèque Française in Paris will present the Italian director’s 1957 film Le notti bianche in 35 mm. With this wintry nocturne, a Dostoyevsky adaptation starring Marcello Mastroianni and Maria Schell as two lonely souls who fall into a fleeting and ultimately ill-fated romance, Visconti summoned an atmosphere exquisitely suspended between reality and dream. Departing from the neorealism of his early works, the filmmaker shot the entirety of Le notti bianche within the walls of a studio—modeling his finely detailed sets after the port city of Livorno—in order to lend a theatrical air to the solid world of the film. “Whereas in [Visconti’s] film Senso (1954) the settings were real but managed accidentally to look artificial, here the setting is both artificial and clearly intended to be seen as such,” writes scholar Geoffrey Nowell-Smith in his liner essay for our edition of the film, an approach that allowed the director to evoke “the poetic realism of Marcel Carné.”

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