Wednesday, September 19, 2018

La spiaggia (Alberto Lattuada, 1954)

Alberto Lattuada’s La spiaggia undergoes an interesting evolution from a blandly conventional study of a challenged woman to something more structurally unusual and sociologically astute. Anna Maria (Martine Carol) collects her young daughter from the nuns with whom the girl spent the past year, with no immediate plan beyond taking her to the seaside, with the hope of a new start beyond that. She rapidly attracts attention in the small, self-absorbed vacation community of mostly wives and kids: first for being habitually dressed in the black of a widow, then from some quarters as an object of desire, then later again for being a former prostitute. The latter development causes everyone to shun her, until a local billionaire who’s been observing her from the margins of the film intervenes with a simple yet powerful gesture of support that redeems her status and re-establishes her hope of a new beginning. Much of the film is ineffectually pleasant and scenic, although in retrospect Lattuada may appear to have been lulling us into complacency, into regarding the casual adultery (or attempts at such) and entitled venality as being somehow normal or inevitable. But the final stretch lays all this hypocrisy out in the open, damning the men as thieves and the women as chattels, all the more interestingly for its flagrant transparency; the billionaire seems to exult in his ability to reshape reality, to bend not just behaviour but underlying belief to his will (the town’s notional leader, its young mayor, having failed in his own attempt to help Anna Maria, can only look on impotently). Carol’s rather passionless presence seems for much of the film a relative weakness, but ultimately supports the film’s division of even well-heeled society into two essential groups: those who are written upon, and the much, much smaller group that gets to do the writing (a secondary female character gets at least an ambiguous foothold in that second group, recklessly living the life she desires, and then skipping town without paying the bill).

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