Luchino Visconti's utterly gorgeous 1957 picture, adapted from the Dostoyevsky story, is a rich, visually stunning masterpiece from the acclaimed filmmaker. "Le Notti Bianche" stars Marcello Mastroianni (in an early role) as a lonely stranger who comes upon a seemingly sad woman (Maria Schell) and is instantly taken with her.
Although she isn't instantly hooked, the two keep connecting while she waits for her lover's promised return and eventually, a romance blossoms, although both know that it cannot last. Visconti's film isn't heavy on plot, but it's heavenly in other regards - especially the picture's sets and cinematography. Filmed entirely on remarkably intricate and beautiful sets, the picture's settings have a shadowy, rich quality that is just remarkable to behold. The black and white cinematography is velvety and smooth, capturing the characters in exceptionally strong compositions. The score by Nino Rota ("The Godfather") also adds greatly to the mood and atmosphere.
Although the film isn't heavy on plot, it functions superbly as a character piece. Superbly written, directed and acted, the piece is highlighted by terrific performances from Mastroianni and Schell. Overall, this is a marvelous picture that will hopefully gain more fans with this Criterion DVD.
VIDEO: The movie is presented by Criterion in 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen. This is a very pleasing transfer that, while not perfect, is certainly quite good. The transfer was supervised by cinematographer Giuseppe Rottuno, and was created on a C-Reality from the original 35mm negative. The MTI restoration system was used to remove thousands of instances of dirt and debris. Sharpness and detail are not exceptional, but the picture retains a very pleasing, silky "film-like" quality that still boasts fine detail and definition.
As for faults, there were some minor instances of dust and debris in a few instances, but aside from that, the picture looked crisp and clear, with no edge enhancement or any other concerns. The black and white images looked rich and bold, with nice shadow detail.
SOUND: The mono soundtrack is adequate, as the sound quality is rather thin and hollow. Considering the age of the picture however, the audio quality isn't bad. Dialogue remains fairly crisp and clear throughout, but the music does sound a tad sharp and brittle here-and-there.
EXTRAS: A collection of interviews featuring Suso Cecchi D'Amico, film critics Laura Delli Colli and Lino Micciche, cinematographer Rotunno, and costume designer Piero Tosi; screen test footage, the trailer, an audio reading of Dostoyevsky's short story and an insert with essays.
Final Thoughts: "Le Notti Bianche" is a glorious, gorgeously filmed romantic drama, complete with two fabulous lead performances. Criterion's DVD edition presents a stunning transfer, with fine supplements. Recommended.
The Film A-