“Adua and Her Friends” (1960)

If Marked Woman had been done in the style of Seduced and Abandoned, it might’ve looked a lot like Antonio Pietrangeli’s Adua and Her Friends. In the late ’50s the so-called Merlin Law officially closed the brothels of Rome, causing thousands of prostitutes to crowd onto the streets in a matter of weeks. Adua begins with the closing night at one brothel, where four of the hookers—a dream team consisting of Simone Signoret, Sandra Milo, Emmanuelle Riva and Gina Rovere—are about to open a restaurant in the country. They plan to moonlight, working tables by day and the beds upstairs at night, but their efforts to get the restaurant off the ground succeed too well: it’s a hit, and bit by bit they find themselves ready to give up the old life. The only problem is whether society will accept their new roles, a problem crystallized by their financier—a businessman who, while perhaps not a hardened criminal on paper, certainly is in his pocketbook. He’s not interested in hearing any goopy stories from his whores; he wants his money.

This is one sneaky picture, one whose stylishness and depth of feeling reveal themselves only gradually. Piero Piccioni’s jazzy score mixes it up with pop hits of the day, Mastroianni shows up (and is perfect) in an important part, the women’s characters are all psychologically detailed and convincing, and Petrangeli unifies a variety of tones without ever settling into a single genre. (Watch out for that ending, though—it has a barb on it.)  I’ve seen only one of his other films, one of the shorts in The Seven Deadly Sins, though he did second-unit work on Ossessione and he was one of the writers on Europa ’51. As of tonight, though, he’s at the top of my list. (His filmography’s sadly truncated: he drowned at 49, while working on his last picture.)

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