Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Now out on DVD...

The chef d'œuvre of one of the Big Five (Cinque grandi) of Italian New Wave cinema
(Spoiler warning: Plot or ending details follow):

Immortality in Milan (1971). Directed by Luigi Contadino. Color, 183 minutes. In German, Italian, French, Danish, Polish, Flemish, and Romansh, with optional English subtitles. Cast: Sophia Lauren, Julie Christie, Ruth Gordon, Dominique Sanda. Based on Trudi Weib's 1962 novella Die Unsterblichkeit in Mailand, often compared to Kafka's Metamorphosis, Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, and, proleptically, Jaecken's Emmanuelle and Anderson's Logan's Run. The year is 2012. Gretchen Lindenberg (Lauren), a self-described "paper-pulp baroness" of proletarian origins, is in Milan for a trade fair. Ruthlessly practical in every domain of life, Lindenberg is particularly scornful of matters metaphysical and aesthetic; an attitude attested to by her one-off boast to a colleague that "our flagship cotton bond contains a higher concentration of pulverized sheet music than that of any other paper manufacturer in the EU." The diegesis of the film freely shuttles between the present and past, as well as between the actual and counterfactual, most famously in a series of recollected and fancied conversations between Lindenberg and her unnamed lover (Christie), a painter and philosophical idealist in the grand old German tradition who has contended that Lindenberg must hold herself aloof from the daily bustle of her business and dedicate her innermost self to the cultivation of the intellect and the contemplation of the thing-in-itself. On the first day of the exhibition, in the midst of a working lunch in the cafeteria of the Pirelli Tower, Lindenberg notices an elderly woman in a lime-green pantsuit (Gordon) sitting alone at a nearby table. The sheer hideousness and decrepitude of the old crone is such as to impel Lindenberg to question, for the first time in her life, not only her own sexuality, but also her vocation as a businesswoman. She imagines Christie pointing to the old woman and exclaiming, "Ecce mulier--that bag of bones! The telos of all of your vaunted pragmatism; me in 30 years, you in 20!" Stressed beyond belief by the untimely onset of this metaphysical crisis, Lindenberg contracts a chest cold and retires to her room at the Park Hyatt for two consecutive days and nights. At 23:00 of the second night she learns, courtesy of a local television news broadcast, that the first batches of the fabled immortality serum, discovered the previous year in the United States, have at last begun to arrive in the city's hospitals. By midnight she is fast asleep and dreaming of gloating to Christie, "So much for your vaunted idealism!" First thing next morning she repairs to the pronto soccorso of the Ospedale San Raffaele and is administered a dose of the serum, whose restorative effects are said to be immediate and dramatic. As if to spite her, however, her cold degenerates into a case of acute bronchitis. In desperation, she throws herself into the activity of the fair with feigned alacrity. Every day, both on the floor of the Fiera Milano and off, all talk of the non-shop variety centers on the immortality serum and the rejuvenation it has wrought among her fellow industrialists, to say nothing of the Milanese at large. The sole exception to this generally salubrious state of affairs (apart from herself) is her bugbear the old woman, who at lunchtime never fails to appear at her accustomed table, invariably looking worse for the passage of the preceding day. Lindenburg cannot help but be seized by the paranoiac suspicion that the ineffectuality of the serum in her own case is somehow linked to the prolongation of the old woman's moribund existence. She contrives sundry schemes for bumping off the old girl, but somehow never manages to summon up the gumption necessary for their execution. Finally, on the last day of the exhibition, when her walk to the Pirelli taxes her almost to the point of total physical collapse, she is met at the threshold of the cafeteria by a pair of orderlies bearing on a stretcher a body covered by a blanket from head to foot. As they pass into the lobby she catches a glimpse of a withered hand and the cuff of a lime-green sleeve protruding from under the edge of the blanket. At that very moment, to her astonishment and delight, she finds that her cold has seemingly completely evaporated; that she can breathe freely again; that, indeed she feels better, more youthful, more alive than she can remember ever before having felt. Her professional obligations vis-a-vis this sojurn having been met, she decides to treat herself to an early evening stroll in the Parco Sempione. There, under at the Arco della Pace, she meets and is instantly smitten by a young streetwalker (Sanda) for whom, as the camera pans up and down the newcomer's lithe, nublie young body in the closing scene, the viewer presumes she will shortly ditch Christie.