Search the Cinema Head Cheese Archives!

July 7, 2011

Movie Review: Adua and Her Friends (1960, Raro Video)

By Greg Goodsell

Directed by Antonio Pietrangeli

Buy Adua & Her Friends (Adua e Le Compagne) on DVD

Simone Signoret plays the title role of Adua, a mother hen to a trio of fellow prostitutes Lolita (Sandra Milo), Marilian (Emmanuelle Riva) Milly (Gina Rovere). Turned out of their brothel with the enacting of the Merlin Law of 1959 that closed all such establihments in Rome, the four try to make a go of it by opening a restaurant in the country. Pooling their savings together to rent a long disused building, they fall short and call on a wealthy former John, Dr. Ercoli (perpetual Italian bad guy Claudio Gora) to finance their business venture. He agrees, but stipulates that for the frist few months the restaurant must not engage in any shady activities -- until he says otherwise, the four women paying him an exorbitant monthly fee in the process. The restaurant at first is a success. Auda begins a fling with playboy Piero (perpetual Italian romantic foil Marcello Mastroianni), Milly first rebuffs and then accepts a proposal of marriage from a straight-arrow customer and Marlina brings her estranged young son to live briefly in her new "family" environment. However -- their male dominated society won't let the girls get on with their lives, and all their hard work and dreams come crashing to the ground. The ladies, without a roof over their head as decreed by law, must now take to the streets ...

Auda and Her Friends is a simple tale on some very complex issues. As illustrated Paul Anderson's Boogie Nights (1996), society will pay top dollar for illicict sexual services and then publicly rebuff the people involved in its employ. Prostitution and "sex work" is the clearest example of capitalism at its worst. The hooker on the street corner, with all of her social problems and infectious diseases will always be there as long as there are men lining up for her services. Furthermore, society will denounce the prostitute, and make things difficult for them to operate -- until there is an arrangement beneficial for society.

On another level, Auda and Her Friends is at heart what it takes to succeed in a money-driven world. Many of us do tasks that we would never ordinarily do in exchange for a paycheck -- how does this lift us up apart from Auda and her friends? The browbeaten beauties suffer at the hands of the villianous Ercoli because he has them exactly where he wants them. To their credit, the women protest mightily, but their efforts avail to nothing. Anybody trap[ped in a dead-end job, where the managment displays a "go ahead and quit, there's a hundred people lining up around the block to replace you" will have an innate understanding of the psychology at work in the film.

Director Antonio Pietrangeli, who died at the untimely age of 49 in a drowning accident on the set of his last film in 1969, takes pains not to portray the four women as mere victims. Part and parcel of Auda's plans is to get the restaurant up and running in order to open a brothel later on upstairs. It appears that Auda and Ercoli have very similar business plans, the latter only wanting to expedite things a bit sooner. Marlina in particular is opposed to restaurant work, and is highly vocal by telling Auda that prostitution required far less labor and paid far more than waitressing. It is implied that these women have known very little outside of prostituion, Auda recalling her time entertaining Mussolini's troops in Northern Africa. Those who come to the film shouold be aware that it offers many things to reflect upon, but offers no solutions whatsoever.

The Raro version of this unheralded film is of nigh-Criterion level quality. A sparkling black-and-white transfer, the DVD is accompanied with a highly detailed, scholarly booklet about the film, its director and its importance in the Italian neorealist movement. There is an introductio n by Italian film historian Maurizio Poro, along with an episode from the Pietrangeli's Amor di Mezzoo Secolo, entitled Girandola 1910, a frothy Edwardian farce about a doctor's compliance with his patient's affairs. The light tone of this segment contrasts nicely with the gritty despair of Auda and proves that Pietrangeli had depth and range as a director. The release of this DVD will hopefully inspire others to seek out his other work ...

(Screencaps courtesy of

No comments:

Post a Comment