The very first feature film of Michelangelo Antonioni, Story of a Love Affair as introduced by Lorenzo Codelli, was a film that dealt with the metaphysics, and had very little neo-realist elements which was a departure from what one would come to expect from a filmmaker whose documentaries were neo-realist. Watching it for the first time, I thought it would make a wonderful thriller/crime-mystery involving two lovers, and I suppose in the hands of Hollywood, we would get just that.
But this is not Hollywood we're talking about, so again I get to throw all standard notions I was weaned on out of the window. As I was warned by a friend, I would be in for a rough ride because whatever structure of story-telling I was familiar with was going to be challenged, and strangely enough, I am beginning to find this challenge quite liberating, like the hitting onto a goldmine or an oilfield, and just raking in the sights and sounds from how beautiful a black and white movie could be, in terms of story, and characters.
However, the characters need not be goody-two-shoes, or perfectly looking beings with zilch problems that they couldn't take care of within 2 hours. There are some serious and complex issues that the leads here have to grapple with, and together with an audience, we try and probe, and discover for ourselves just what those are, though naturally we aren't given all the answers on a sliver platter, and have to work hard at it, sometimes even utilizing some precious moments to breathe, digest, and compute, only being able to scratch the surface.
Whatever the story or mystery is, it never really got addressed, not directly anyway. But story aside, I was really intrigued by the lead characters. We have a beautiful married woman Paola Fontana (played by Lucia Bose whom we'll see later in another Antonioni movie, and at one time the reigning Miss Italy) who seem to have the best of what luxuries life can offer, but is stuck in a loveless marriage to a rich man Enrico (Ferdinando Sarmi). We're told that in her youth, she was a head turner, and almost always changes her boyfriends, each being the alpha-male type.
Surprisingly, her lover whom she maintains contact with, Guido (Massimo Girotti) is anything but an alpha-male type. In fact, I would call him a loser in the classic sense of the word. No real job and penniless, he has some magnetic qualities to be be able to mesmerize Paola into trysts in cheap motel rooms. Meeting on the sly, we see how a high society woman have to dodge around from being discovered, and setting up alibis just to meet Guido, and we soon learn how wicked a woman she can be, for coming up with plans for crime to be committed to get things done her way. Which brings us back to the original thought of how she was involved in a more heinous crime / accident, where she could well be the chief manipulator then made to be seen as the victim.
The main crime thread that got weaved into the story, was one involving a certain unseen Ms Giovanna, whose demise was linked to the two lovers. We never really learned what exactly happened, and Antonioni makes us work in order to try and piece clues and accounts together. And the probing of this mystery by a private investigator serves as a catalyst to the rest of the story, where we first see our lovers meet after a long while, but instead of enjoying each other's embrace, seem a lot more concerned with the PI's probe, as if afraid that it'll uncover hidden skeletons in their closets.
Story of a Love Affair becomes an examination into these 2 characters, and interesting enough, to dwell on the problems that they face, in a somewhat lose-lose situation throughout their relationship. The first was when Giovanna served to be in the way of their coming together, being an in-between, and when that's settled, there's the other more pressing issue of whether they can elope successfully, where pragmatism takes over romanticism with Guido knowing for sure that he has no money, and little means to support both of them, especially the lifestyle that Paola currently enjoys.
Definitely deserves a second viewing to try and develop my thoughts on it further! And to enjoy the beautiful score all over again too!