Le Notti Bianche
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.