This early Antonioni features a compelling performance by Lucia Bose, playing a newcomer actress who is conflicted about the roles various men in the industry want her to play.
Cast: Lucia Bose, Gino Cervi, Andrea Checchi
Plot: When a small role catapults Clara’s acting career, she begins to find herself trapped in a glamorously cruel world of false promises, failed relationships, and disastrous choices.
Awards: Official Selection (Locarno)
Subject Matter: Moderate – Acting; Hopes & Dreams; Movie Business
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
One of two films that Michelangelo Antonioni released in 1953 (the other being The Vanquished), The Lady Without Camelias features Lucia Bose, who first appeared in the director’s first feature, Story of a Love Affair (1950).
She plays Clara Manni, a shopkeeper’s assistant who must contend with newfound fame after being cast in a movie. As offers for her to star in more lucrative (read: raunchy) commercial projects come by, she suddenly finds herself married to a filmmaker, who forces her to take up only serious-minded roles.
It’s a compelling performance by Bose as she becomes torn between pleasing the various men in the industry who had put her on the map and finding her own conscience.
“I suppose you have to pay for success one way or another.”
While The Lady Without Camelias is a romance drama about the temptations of fame, wealth and infidelity, what is more satisfying is seeing Antonioni’s sly attempt at slighting the film industry that he was part of.
It is fairly ironic to see the film taking pot shots at movies that aren’t commercial enough (goodbye neorealism), particularly with Antonioni redefining modernist arthouse filmmaking in the years that followed the critical acclaim of L’avventura (1960).
Seeing The Lady Without Camelias with today’s eyes, one might find the stifling patriarchy especially discouraging—an actress can’t find work without the help of powerful men, the film seems to say.
For fans of Antonioni, this early work shows a different side of him; it’s almost like watching a Classical Hollywood movie in Italian.