Le mogli e le arance is characterized by a wonderful sereneness. It is the kind of quietude which many of us connect immediately with the south. Everything seems to be in its perfect place, and time is just passing. In the setting of a sanatorium a nobleman is practicing idleness and slow-motion mind games. Does it sound boring? Yes, it does. But it is not, the uneventfulness is definitively enthralling. The film director tries to narrate time, time itself, as such, for its own sake: a rare experiment.
Lucio D’Ambra haunts Italian film historiography for reasons not too obvious to an outsider. He seems to raise or have raised hopes that Italian cinema of the silent period had been distinguished by the presence of that most desirable type of film director: an Author. You recognize your author by his – authors are men – outstanding talent and unique style. By being an author he elevates the popular entertainment that is cinema to the safe level of art, and so protects educated film lovers from the danger of liking the same thing – a film – in the same way uneducated people do.
There are now more works by Lucio D’Ambra around than in the past, and viewing them one after the other, it becomes clear that they are amateurish rather than auteurish. The first three reels of Carnevalesca (not in the program) are downright awful, lacking even the basic ability of conveying content by images, not to mention timing. Then, so I imagine, Borelli stamped her foot, hissed “Enough!” and took over directing the film, filling the final reel with a great diva shtick.
Looking at Le mogli e le arance you see (vaguely – in the screened print details are drowning in overly dense Desmetcolor) a delightful revue, a fashionable Capriccio, bearing the signature of Caramba (Luigi Sapelli) everywhere. Since 1900 the leading producer of operettas in Italy, Caramba was also famously the supreme master of art direction and of set and costume design for the Italian theatre, opera and ballet. He is the author of the exuberant variety of hats on display in Le mogli e le arance, of the choreography of pretty girls moving like a corps de ballet, of the lovely Shadow theatre and other charming visual ideas in the film. Popular jeune premier Luigi Serventi has the role of the jeune premier – and Lucio D’Ambra wrote the intertitles. He also published rather smug articles to promote himself as a writer who was now active in cinema, which in fact he was, directing some twenty films between 1918 and 1922. Since he published texts, latter-day film historians mistook him for an author.
Cast and Credits
T. ted.: Himmlische Orangen. Scen.: Lucio D’Ambra. F.: Giulio Rufini. Scgf.: Caramba [Luigi Sapelli]. Int.: Luigi Serventi (marchese Marcello), Myra Terribili (Caterinetta), Paolo Wullman (barone Sanglot), Alberto Pasquali, Rina Maggi, Stella Blu. Prod.: Do.Re.Mi. 35mm. L.: 1532 m (incompleto, l. orig.: 1919 m). D.: 74’ a 18 f/s. Tinted
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