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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Adri, I Hardly Knew Ye
by Donald Levit

The title I Knew Her Well/Io la conoscevo bene is ironic. And sad. Her surname suggestive of “little star,” less than starlet Adriana Astarelli is sunk to depths of ridicule rather than raised to the entertainment and social dolce vita whirl she dreamed of back on the miserable Pistoia farm. The capital’s rich and famous will cooperate with the press that still hounded you and will recount fake intimate tales of the woman they used and discarded but did not bother to know.

This is not classical tragic drama, for “Adri Astin” does not know herself, either. There is no depth, no portrayed thought, no self-awareness: her sudden end is therefore all the more shocking, coming after another bout of all-night partying in a chain of impersonal pleasure with yet another unnamed male. The only consideration she is pictured as giving to the situation must be inferred, or not, in the longest take of the ninety-nine minutes, her tiny Fiat 850 scooting along pre-dawn streets with unclear views of her driver’s face through the windshield..

Later known as a sensuous pretty woman in satiric commedia all’italiana and other films of her country’s more renowned directors, here nineteen-year-old Sandrelli is in every scene as the aspiring model-actress-hired hostess whose face and soul remain blank whether post-coital, talking on the phone, looking into mirrors, baby-sitting, or ambiguously slow dancing with an awed kid or twisting the night away to ‘60s Italian pop.

Despite Venice Film Festival and Ministry of Culture selection as one of a hundred national films to be saved, the unknown 1965 feature is not listed in most reference sources. Nor is director/co-writer former critic Antonio Pietrangeli, unless it be a footnote reference to his coining the term Neorealism for that post- and anti-Fascist movement. In a 4k digital restoration by Criterion Collection and Cineteca di Bologna, this last completed feature before his accidental drowning death at forty-nine, has its international premičre as the final film of five in a special career retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art.

In spite of humor here and there, IKHW is dead serious, in line with a filmography heavy on consideration of the position, and the abuse, of women in a hedonistic rebuilt Europe of the Swinging Sixties still rooted in sexism.

On the fringes of the sottobosco underworld of cinema, dimple-chinned Adriana scratches by with earlier work in a beauty salon whose married owner groped her, as a movie house usherette, or as a bella presencia. An opening scene, the morning after in the bed of a famous Writer (Joachim Fuchsberger) who may incorporate her and other interchangeable ladies into his book as Milena, “a kind of half-wit,” adumbrates others to follow. There are so many that she cannot pinpoint the father of the baby to be aborted for her “career,” nor can she manage to furnish a con man thief’s last name to the police Commissioner (Turi Ferro). Inconsistently, she turns down only one seducer, arrogant movie mogul Roberto (Enrico Maria Salerno).

Not given a chance, her abilities are neither good nor bad, no worse than others’ at Tatyana Pavlova’s parodied elocution and acting class. Personally she does not exhibit more than faint exasperation, or else quietly leaves, including at a humiliating movie-screen ad or when Antonio (Robert Hoffman), a lover whom she might grow to feel for, asks her to telephone his girlfriend whose parents will hang up on his male voice. She disdains accepting money for sex, although she nowhere comes across as so passionate that she cannot resist its pleasure and thus is universally available. Rather, she is acquiescent, surface, distanced by the camera. Moreover, she has little perception, for the good men who might value and save her are given short shrift: never-was has-been Gigi Baggini (a wonderful Ugo Tognazzi) and garage car parker Italo (Franco Nero).

One wants to rescue this lost lady who is not aware enough to realize how lost she is. Her response is laughter or silence, but sooner or later something has got to give.

(Released by Janus Films; not rated by MPAA.)

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