B&W, 1950, 98m.
Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni
Starring Massimo Girotti, Lucia Bosť, Ferdinando Sarmi, Gino Rossi
NoShame (US R1 NTSC)

After shooting a number of short films and abandoning a proposed documentary about the inner workings of an asylum, future art house revolutionary Michelangelo Antonioni embarked on his first narrative feature film with Story of a Love Affair (Cronaca di un amore), a glossy and engaging post-neorealism film that takes Italian cinema's fascination with film noir (ignited primarily by Luchino Visconti's Ossessione) into psychologically perilous territory. Still ten years away from his international breakthrough with L'avventura, Antonioni already displays an assured directorial style with several touches that foreshadow his future masterpieces.

The story is a fairly typical doomed love affair yarn, revolving around the young, beautiful, and affluent Paola (Satyricon's Bosť), whose older husband, businessman Enrico (Sarmi), decides after a year of marriage that she might be unfaithful after uncovering a clutch of old photographs of her past boyfriends. The suspicious spouse enlists the services of Carloni (Rossi), a private detective whose snooping inadvertently brings Paola back into contact with her former fiance, Guido (Baron Blood's Girotti). Soon the former lovers have ignited a passionate affair, leading to a murder plot and the inevitable tragic consequences.

Though boasting a more traditional and eventful narrative than most of Antonioni's future output, Story of a Love Affair betrays its director's involvement primarily in the quiet, emotionally charged scenes between Paola and Guido; in particular, a pensive moment along a reservoir bank exhibits the same tendency of juxtaposing conflicted characters against stark, linear landscapes later explored in his Monica Vitti film cycle. With two romantic leads in their prime, the film firmly anchors the central emotional relationship with a potentially tricky set of moral conflicts-- especially coming from a predominantly Catholic country where censors kept a close watch on anything involved adulterous murder plots.

Considering the original negative was destroyed in a fire, NoShame has done a very admirable job of restoring this long-neglected film to a semblance of its original luster. As cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno notes in his extensive essay about the film's restoration, a great deal of work was necessary to restore the surviving elements to watchable condition; the results certainly speak for themselves. The delicate monochromatic photography looks very good indeed, and the once considerable flaws have been successfully eliminated.

The two-disc set contains a remarkable number of extras bound to please Antonioni fans as well as casual viewers. Rotunno expands on the restoration procedure even further in the 8-minute "Restoring a Masterpiece," while the half-hour "Story of a Peculiar Night" features video footage of a restoration screening in Rome with remarks from Antonioni, Bosť, and other film principals. Assistant director Francesco Maselli and four critics expound on the film's creation and critical importance in the two-hour(!) "Identification of a Masterpiece," which makes a good case for Antonioni's maiden effort as a vital Italian film but gets a bit long-winded at times. Maselli returns for the 5-minute "Fragments of a Love Affiar," a quick visual survey of the locations used in the film. Other extras include a sizeable gallery of posters, stills and production photos, as well as a thick booklet including a nice Antonioni bio and filmography by Matthew Weisman and two text interviews with Antonioni around the time of the film's release.

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