La Signora Senza Camelie Review

La Signora Senza Camelie opens at night in Rome and Clara, played by the intoxicating Lucia Bose, is walking away, framed as a distant figure moving through the streets. She pauses before slowly entering a cinema which is playing host to the première of a musical melodrama of which she is the star. The screen is filled with Clara’s face, the close up on screen directly contrasting the lone figure we have just seen wandering towards the première. The soundtrack in this scene is filled with the thoughts of the cinema-goers enraptured by this new starlet who dominates the screen. Cinema in La Signora Senza Camelie is an illusion though, an idealised image that seduces Clara and ultimately destroys her.

With La Signora Senza Camelie Antonioni paints an unflattering portrait of the harsh realities of Italian popular cinema but in doing so he’s also not afraid to take a swipe at the more pretentious and portentous areas of film. Following Clara’s marriage to Gianni Franchi (Andrea Checchi), a marriage born out of obligation, work on her latest film is halted. Gianni is less than pleased with the idea of his new wife starring in a lusty piece of popular Italian cinema and is more keen on her pursuing roles such as Joan of Arc. Clara dutifully but unconvincingly complies with her husband’s wishes. The resulting film garners the opposite reactions to the première seen at the start of La Signora Senza Camelie and so begins Clara’s decline, one that occurs before she has ever truly risen.

Clara’s fate and the short but intense trajectory of her marraige and her film career are bleak but Antonioni never wallows in the film’s more gloomy notes. The life that we see is seductive despite the harsh realities and the film’s shop clerk to movie star protagonist is oddly timely in an era where fame appears to be the ultimate life goal of so many.