Le Amiche is arguably the most representative of Italian master filmmaker Michelangelo Antonioni’s earlier films. This is especially because it introduces many of the elements that would return in his later works – particularly in his more celebrated ones of the 1960s.
The film is a loose adaptation of a Cesare Pavese short story titled Tre Donne Sole. It also shares some similarities with such films as Luciano Emmer’s Three Girls from Rome (1952), though it is a more detached and disenchanted counterpart. Critically lauded upon its release, the film did poorly at the box office.
The story, as its title suggests, revolves around a group of upper-middle-class girlfriends and takes place in the city of Turin, in the years leading up to the economic boom. It particularly revolves around their stylish existence, social and romantic lives, and could be taken as a precursor of sorts to Federico Fellini’s 1960 film La Dolce Vita for that reason.
The pivotal friendship is hardly of the warmest kind. In fact, the core concept of the film seems to be a portrayal of the impossibility of the existance of true friendship and romance, which everyone seems to be ready and willing so sacrifice in favour of individual ambitions and desires. Class struggle and the battle of the sexes are explored here as further complicating the possibility of their existance.
The selfishness of the characters is rather evident – none, not even the male counterparts or the de facto protagonist Clelia, are entirely likable. The narrative, free of the usual melodramatic devices, has been defined as psychological journey rather than a phsycal one.
Antonioni has stated that this film was never meant to be a faithful adaptation of Pavese’s short story. Indeed, his choice of co-writing the screenplay with two women – Suso Cecchi D’Amico and Alba de Céspedes – proves a commitment to representing a realistic and modern lived female experience.
Despite the arguable morals of these female protagonists, the women of Le Amiche are empowered and competitive within many of the public fields that would have been defined as male dominated. It is perhaps their empowerment that makes them seem threatening, an observation supported by the feeling of sinister mystery that accompanies the narrative but is never quite justified by it.