La Ragazza Con la Valigia (Girl With a Suitcase) (1961) ***
Valerio Zurlini is today probably the least recalled and regarded of the great Italian directors of the post-war generation, perhaps because he offers less for auteurists to get their teeth into than the rest in terms of style and subject matter. He's "one of the hardest directors to picture in the class photo" is how Gian Piero Brunetta puts it in his fascinating History of Italian Cinema.
But rather than an outsider, he's more like a synthesis, certainly on the evidence of this movie, which seems to combine the social authenticity and detail of Neo-Realism, the character-driven poignancy of early Fellini, a use of location and space almost as a character in its own right that evokes Antonioni, and finally the later De Sica's centralising of a major star presence. Claudia Cardinale is wonderful here, perhaps surprisingly to those who know her only or mainly for her international guest star-type roles, and so too is Jacques Perrin, in an extremely moving performance as the lonely young man who falls for her.
The story of their relationship, which begins with her abandonment by Perrin's caddish older brother, his surreptitious courtship of her, their briefly flowering love, and finally her realisation that she is unable to respond to the intensity of his regard for her, is told with a wonderfully subtle eye for the minutiae of human behaviour, together with a film sense that finds exactly the right setting and situation for each phase of the narrative development.
The sequence in which Perrin becomes increasingly resentful of Cardinale dancing with another man, after he has bought her the dress that enables her to leave her hotel room in the first place, is especially well staged, photographed and performed, but the whole film is a truly excellent piece of work that satisfies the eye, head and soul in unison, and its moving ending lacks entirely the finger-wagging pessimism of Fellini, or the fatalistic shoulder-shrug of Antonioni.