Incommunicability between angst-ridden, deadlocked couples was fresher when Antonioni tackled it in the ’60s. Flashes on an Antonioni universe streak across “Winter,” Nina di Majo’s follow-up to her debut “Autumn,” but only emphasize the distance that the young Neapolitan helmer still has to run. Despite a strong cast (Valeria Golino, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi and the emerging Fabrizio Gifuni) that should draw some initial box office interest, the script’s awkward dramatization of a gray post-industrial society full of money but empty of vital human relationships is just too cliched to click. Pic should have its best shot at Euro sales in Berlin’s Panorama, where self-conscious abstraction is not always a turn-off for buyers.
Leo (Gifuni), a serious young writer having trouble getting his gloomy second novel published, lives in an isolated country apartment with Marta (Bruni Tedeschi). Their only neighbors are the married couple Gustavo (the suave Yorgo Voyagis), a wealthy industrialist, and his wife, Anna (Golino). At dinner together, all four come off as rather loopy, with the men ignoring, putting down or ogling the women, and the femmes vying with each other in masochism and insecurity.
Marta, who is very much in love with grouchy, closed-circuit Leo, rejects Gustavo’s overtures. Anna, lonely and longing for a baby they can’t have, encourages Leo’s growing attraction. She drives a final wedge between Leo and Marta, who never listen to each other anyway. Marta, finally established as the most neurotic of the quartet, seeks the psychiatric help they all seem to need, but too late to save the relationship.
Focused on character exploration rather than dramatic action, film asks a lot of its cast, while it makes them tussle with some awkward dialogue and scripting choices. Though the story opens with a voiceover from Leo going through an artistic crisis, it drops his p.o.v. almost immediately; Gustavo abruptly disappears midway through the film after sleazing through a nightclub with a druggy model out of “La Dolce Vita.”
This shifts the focus to the two women. At first rather interchangeable, Marta and Anna gradually emerge as distinct characters thanks to Bruni Tedeschi and Golino’s different styles and personal intensity. Like Gifuni’s wild-eyed, tousled hair artist, who destroys his work rather than compromise it, they often verge on parody. It’s easier to pity Anna, Marta and Leo than to care about them, and film ends with a big hole in its emotional center.
Pic is certainly full of personal touches. As in “Autumn,” the characters feel most comfy when they’re writing, translating, looking at artwork or browsing in bookstores. Di Majo, cinematographer Cesare Accetta and production designer Gianni Silvestri emphasize the cold drabness of the couples’ spacious apartments, creating a string of not always subtle visual metaphors for their constipated emotional lives. Film was shot in Rome, for example, but the city is almost totally effaced in the interest of creating a cold, anti-social northern setting. Careful use of the camera and well-done lyrical moments give the film a strong signature. Modern mood music by the group Frame adds a sophisticated note.