L’amore united two short films by Roberto Rossellini, both starring Anna Magnani. One of these, “The Miracle,” from a story by Federico Fellini, who also assisted Rossellini and co-starred with Magnani, is of negligible interest. (The Vatican’s nonsensical condemnation of it, though, made it famous.) But “The Human Voice,” from Jean Cocteau’s one-act play, is a fascinating film.
The situation is theatrical: a distressed woman on the telephone. The woman is alone in her home at night, nursing psychic wounds from the breakup of a love affair. Her ex-lover is headed to the altar. They speak on the phone a number of times during the night. She begs this human god of hers for forgiveness and reconciliation.
The extraordinary set designed by Christian Bérard is bathed in an intricate play of shadows—a visual form one doesn’t expect from Rossellini but one that suits this “chamber” material perfectly and suggests besides the woman’s troubled interiority—a space in which she feels helpless and hopelessly lost. Here is a woman who, defeated and despondent, inhabits the darkness of her own mind; what flickers of light or lighter gray exist are a projection of her desperate hope that her lover might yet take her back.
Magnani gives a phenomenal performance as this solitudinous soul. It is a role, ironically, that Ingrid Bergman, as well as Liv Ullmann, would play—Bergman, very well; Ullmann, disastrously. Regardless, Magnani played it best. The film was, of course, Rossellini’s gift to the woman he loved.
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