July 19, 2005 at 04:00 AM EDT

Le Notti Bianche

Current Status
In Season
Marcello Mastroianni, Maria Schell
Luchino Visconti
Drama, Foreign Language

In Luchino Visconti’s adaptation of Dostoyevsky’s short story ”White Nights,” the setting shifts from 19th-century St. Petersburg to 1950s Livorno, Italy. The city was re-created in the studio, lending the film a surreal and claustrophobic atmosphere. Mario (Marcello Mastroianni), a lonely clerk, becomes enchanted by the mysterious Natalia (Maria Schell) when he finds her weeping on a footbridge, waiting for her long-absent lover (Jean Marais). (They then spend much of the film moving through dark, mist-filled streets — though they are lured out of their self-consciousness in one scene to dance to a swinging Bill Haley & His Comets tune in a crowded cafe.) One night, convinced that Natalia’s lover is not returning, they take a boat ride through the canals, and the shadowy fog is replaced by a magical snowfall, symbolic of the dreamers’ longing for an unattainable fairy-tale ending. EXTRAS Cinematographer Giuseppe Rottuno discusses Visconti’s desire to make the set of White Nights ”real, yet. . .unreal,” resulting in a movie that is ”sometimes theater and sometimes cinema.” T. Ryder Smith’s lulling, if dry, rendition of the Dostoyevsky tale, downloadable as an MP3, makes a decent bedtime story. Meanwhile, the silence of rare Mastroianni and Schell screen tests will leave you wishing they were both still alive to contribute commentary.

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