I Knew Her Well: Criterion Collection
April 25, 2016
Antonio Pietrangeli’s I Knew Her Well (1965) was part of the exciting boom of Italian cinema in the 1960s that reflected a period of economic prosperity where poor farmers found themselves becoming wealthier and more urban. Whereas most of these films – by the likes of Federico Fellini, Pier Paolo Pasolini and Michelangelo Antonioni – featured suave male protagonists, I Knew Her Well features a female one, played by Stefania Sandrelli as Adriana, a beautiful girl from the country who moves to Rome to make it as an actress.
We meet her working at a hair salon and is comically self-absorbed as evident in an amusing scene where she stops filing a customer’s nails to do her own. At night, she works as an usherette at the local cinema where she dreams of being in the movies. She enjoys the simple pleasures of life, like dancing with a date in front of the headlights of his car or sitting in a chair atop a car as it is driving down the street, the wind in her hair. This carefree attitude is quickly given a reality check when she and her friends come across a horrible accident that killed a cyclist, his body still lying in the street.
Adriana gets an agent and a publicist who creates a bio for her that’s pure fabrication and gets her face out there by doing a beauty pageant. Pietrangeli shows that show business is all fiction and that the people that work in it contribute to the artifice. Adriana may have true talent (or maybe not) but can’t get anyone to notice it unless she deceives her way in on the ground floor. That being said, it takes hard work and sacrifice to maintain a façade. For her to make it as a starlet she will be judged by her looks, especially for modeling gigs.
Stefania Sandrelli plays Adriana as something of an enigma. We’re never quite sure what motivates her to go into show business. Does she do it for the money? To get out of her small town and 9-to-5 jobs? Or is it something else? The actress plays it close to the vest and Pietrangeli forces us to try and figure her out based on what she does and what happens to her. This makes her a fascinating character to watch.
I Knew Her Well is a coming-of-age tale of sorts as we watch Adriana navigate the treacherous waters of show business, learning harsh lessons of life but throughout she remains upbeat and determined. Gradually, however, the cruel treatment she receives begins to take its toll, which makes this film more than just an entertaining happy-go-lucky party girl story.
The richly textured black and white cinematography looks absolutely exquisite, preserving the filmic quality of I Knew Her Well.
There’s an excellent interview with actress Stefania Sandrelli who speaks highly of Pietrangeli while also talking about her character.
Film scholar Luca Barattoni takes a look at Pietrangeli’s career, from film critic to filmmaker, and also examines his portrayal of women in Italian society during the ‘60s.
Also included is audition footage of Sandrelli, which is mildly interesting.
Finally, there is a trailer.