"March's Child" / "Nata Di Marzo", Dir: Antonio Pietrangeli, 1956
Anyone stumbling on my lockdown cinema blog will be immediately aware of the film posters that feature prominently at the start of each blog post and in the case of Antonio Pietrangeli's 1956 film "March's Child" I was reminded of the fact that before television or the internet, peoples' first awareness of a film would be a poster designed to encapsulate the plot and characters of a film in single image in a way that would invite curiosity.
I'd watched the opening scenes of the film on YouTube before discovering it on Amazon Prime following an online trawl of everything and anything related to the director's work, which, next to the films of Pietro Germi, has become a bit of an obsession.
Most internet searches regarding the film will usually feature the first poster in the gallery above, of a young woman sitting in a rain shower with an umbrella and this created the impression that this might be a lightweight drama centering on young love and therefore felt less interesting to me - an early example of Pietrangeli's work, perhaps ?
The opening sequence, in which a young couple are seen fooling around inside the head of a giant statue in an Italian sightseeing spot before they prepare to leave in the young man's open-topped sportscar merely reinforced that impression and I went no further, but not before listening to a little of the banter between the two in the car, which felt immediately at odds with the previous events and my initial impression of the film.
The banter revealed the characteristic incisive dialogue so typical of Pietrangeli's films and was not simply the gentle teasing that many young couples might engage in. I've mentioned the director's very feminist inclinations evident in his other films and here the character of "Francesca", the female lead played by Jacqueline Sassard, explains to the young man that while she enjoys his company, she is not ready for any kind of committed relationship, to which he reluctantly complies after making romantic overtures, and that suggests that she is expressing her right to make a choice.
The title of the film itself - "Nata Di Marzo", more literally, "Born in March" - offered no clues as to the plot and it was only until I'd watched it through and done some research online that I understood that the title refers to the Italian equivalent of the "Monday's Child is Fair of Face...etc" rhyme in which the months of the year are associated with a Catholic Saint and that March is associated with being a little crazy if you are born in that month, rather in the way that people say "Mad as a March Hare".
Of course I didn't know that while I watched the film and in general I prefer to allow a film to unfold without too many preconceptions based on reviews etc - to me it could have meant anything and my curiosity was piqued, but also because finding anything by Antonio Pietrangeli felt like a bonus.
The film is structured as a series of flashbacks where Francesca is revealed to have been married before and so she is far from being the young woman in the throes of her first romance as implied in the lighthearted opening sequence of the film. As the couple spend a day together at various locations, she is invited to recollect the events that led from her first love to eventual marriage and then the breakdown of that marriage.
In the first flashback - a device that Pietrangeli used often in his films and that became a recurring trope within "Commedia All'Italiana" - Francesca is a young woman of perhaps 16 years of age and living with her mother and grandmother, who run a busy fashion business, suggesting her middle class background.
Having spent the day with "Carlo", the young man seen at the start of the film, whose car is sabotaged by revellers at a party they have just attended, she decides to make the journey home herself by catching a late-night tram - again, Pietrangeli uses the scene to underline her sense of independence.
On the almost empty late-night tram she catches the eye of "Sandro", an older man played by Gabriele Ferzetti (seen later in Michelangelo Antonioni's "L'Avventura" opposite Monica Vitti) and while he seems attracted to her, he shrugs off the feeling and moves away from her when she gives the impression that he is making her feel uncomfortable.
Without warning, the tram is involved in a collision with a car that interrupts the journey and both Francesca and Sandro leave the tram to continue their homeward journey on foot, exchanging words before they do so.
Back at home, her concerned mother and grandmother berate her for staying out late and it is at this point that we get an insight into Francesca's tendency to embroider facts that borders on invention - in short, she tells fibs.
The timeline jumps forward to a scene where Francesca is preparing to attend court as a witness to the tram accident and where she decides to dress up to the nines and appear older than her years because she believes that she will meet Sandro there too and it is clear that she finds him attractive. She wears an expensive corset "borrowed" from her mother's collection to give her a voluptuous, more mature figure with the aim of catching Sandro's eye again.
The following scenes detail a burgeoning romance between Sandro - a struggling architect who makes the point early on that he is perhaps a little too old to be involved with her - and Francesca. Her lack of maturity in spite of her attempts to appear more grown-up is thrown into stark focus when she shies away from her first kiss and runs off, abandoning Sandro in a field - a scene that suggests more than just shyness on her part but perhaps emotional instability and where the film's title suddenly starts to make sense.
Sandro makes regular phone calls to her home out of concern for her and each time Francesca instructs her maid to fob him off with increasingly bizarre excuses to avoid talking to him, until he finally decides to visit himself, much to the concern of her mother when she discovers that he is an older man.
However, Francesca's mother and grandmother are quite taken by him and the fact that, as an architect and a bachelor, he has prospects and Francesca is forced to apologize for making up stories, where often, she switches herself for Sandro to make it appear as if he is to blame, something he takes with good humour and puts down to her immaturity.
Francesca and Sandro marry and move into a new apartment in a modern development and she wastes no time in spending his money on expensive furnishings while he spends long hours at work trying to establish his own architects practice. Her extravagances soon begin to put a strain on their relationship, though Pietrangeli uses these early scenes of the marriage to depict scenes of comedy and tenderness that feel very authentic, however it's clear that these are just preludes to the gradual fracturing of the marriage as Francesca begins to feel neglected and finds Sandro's lack of ambition, despite of her efforts to help him, irritating.
She develops a resentment towards Sandro's future business partner, a Swiss architect with whom he has phone conversations of light banter in accented French (she is never seen in the film) and accuses him of having an affair with her, which he strenuously denies.
Things reach breaking point in the marriage and she abandons Sandro following an angry altercation where he slaps her across the face, to live on her own in an apartment, seeing Carlo in the meantime, though, while she harbours anger toward Sandro for being overly accommodating to her whims and unambitious, she still loves him.
As divorce looms on the horizon, Francesca reveals to Sandro that she has embarked on an affair (with Carlo) but this is just another fib that reveals her lack of maturity and mercurial nature, and Sandro walks away resigned to the fact that the marriage is over to all intents and purposes.
A scene where she returns to Sandro's apartment to get a fur-coat she has left there reveals that Sandro is struggling to manage on his own, with piles of unwashed dishes in the kitchen and an unmade bed next to hers, which has been left as it was before she walked out, un-slept in. Her neighbour and former friend from the floor above walks in unannounced and asks if she has seen her diary that she left there and Francesca accuses her of having an affair with Sandro, which she denies, and accuses Francesca of being selfish, immature and uncaring of Sandro's needs.
In the closing scenes in "real time" in Carlo's apartment, where he attempts to ply her with alcohol to get her to sleep with him, she storms off into the night since the thought of consummating her relationship with Carlo suddenly seems abhorrent to her. Pietrangeli uses this scene for comedic purpose when she sits on an expensive antique chair when Carlo is mixing drinks in the kitchen, and breaks it in the process, as if to underline her character.
She finds her way to Sandro's office where she is convinced that he is still hard at work and in a drunken rage deflates his car tires, not realizing that it is not his car at all (he has sold his car by then since he can no longer afford to run it on his meagre salary) but someone else's and this causes a commotion in the street when the true owner turns up. Alerted to the commotion outside, Sandro comes down and sees Francesca, still drunk, and takes responsibility for her, avoiding a scene in the process.
As the two talk, Francesca, in a scene echoing that of the initial flashback, announces that she doesn't need his help and decides to take a night-tram home and this moment sets the stage for the couple's emotional reunion as Sandro runs after the tram calling for her and the film ends with the two embracing on the speeding tram.
I have to admit to being completely wrong-footed by the poster and in fact the film is actually a very well-observed and written account of the breakdown of a relationship when there is an age difference between couples but also where there is some kind of emotional or mental instability on one or other person, though as ever, Pietrangeli gives greater weight to his female characters and Francesca is depicted with sympathy and understanding.
That said, Gabriele Ferzetti's role as Sandro perfectly balances that of Jacqueline Sassard as Francesca and at no time do you feel that the plot is weighted one way or the other, taking into consideration the male point of view but without ever descending into being judgmental or in suggesting that Jacqueline is typical of all women.
A film that's easy to overlook or pass by but that is definitely worth a look if you are a follower and fan of Antonio Pietrangeli's work.
Next on the list is Pietro Germi's 1967 film, "L'Immorale" starring Stefania Sandrelli and Ugo Tognazzi, if I can only find it somewhere since it's not on any on-demand services and like "March's Child", has a very scant write-up on Wikipedia.
"March's Child", Dir : Antonio Pietrangeli" 1956, viewed on Amazon Prime rental.