Time of Indifference (1964)
Director: Francesco Maselli.
Starring: Rod Steiger (Leo), Claudia Cardinale (Carla Ardengo), Shelley Winters (Lisa), Paulette Goddard (Maria Grazia Ardengo), Tomas Milian (Michele Ardengo).
A poor man's answer to the German decadence in "Cabaret," this movie is set in Italy with bad guy Steiger conning wealthy aristocrat Goddard while wooing her daughter. Goddard is too far into Italian decadence to see what is going on and this reflected the larger societal trends in Italy.
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire movie.
Two officials have come to the villa of the once rich aristocrat Maria Grazia Ardengo. She is very upset that they are estimating the value of all her belongings because of a foreclosure notice. Her daughter, the beautiful Carla, knows that the family is in deep financial trouble. Also in the house is a family friend, Lisa.
The family's old friend, Leo, has come to the house on Maria Grazia's request. She hopes that Leo can help her save the villa. But Leo is more interested in young Carla than helping her mother. He asks her to "Come away with me". Maria Grazia's son, Michelle, arrives. He informs his mother that the sheriff will take the villa, the furniture and everything else. The family needs 800,000 lira or the villa goes to Leo. Michelle then accuses Leo of deliberately undervaluing the house so he can make a bigger profit when the house is sold.
The older Lisa is interested in Michelle sexually and romantically. She tells him that his mother made a mistake, that she is Leo's lover. Michelle comments: "That's terrible". But he also wonders what was the motive for Lisa telling him about his mother and Leo.
It'is Carla's twentieth-first birthday. The extended family is there. Carla asks her mother to please not fight on her birthday. Leo kisses Carla when they are alone. Later he starts to take her clothes off, but she's too sick from drinking too much. He tells her that he will treat the whole clan tomorrow for dinner at the Ritz Hotel.
At the Ritz Carla dances with Leo, while Michelle dances with his mother. Leo tells Carla to go to his place, but she responds: "No Leo, it's useless." Mother gets mad at Michelle for dancing too close with her and he leaves the party in a huff. He and Carla both are very depressed. They are probably even clinically depressed. Michelle says things like:: "I have no purpose".
Michelle returns home. Lisa is there. He tells her that he knows that Leo was once her lover and that her husband had run away after three years of marriage. He also knows that it was his mother who took Leo away from her. Furthermore, he has known for a long time that his mother and Leo are lovers. Leo, Carla and Mom arrive home. Mom is very happy since Leo taught her the American dance known as the Charleston. Leo talks to Michelle and tells him that he could do worse than to be with Lisa. Michelle just listens. Then Leo approaches Carla. She tells him to leave her alone. A little later, however, Lisa sees Leo kissing Carla.
Mom surprises Leo by announcing that she will auction off the villa and use the money to pay off Leo. Leo is none too happy and leaves. Later Carlsagoes out. Mom scolds Michelle for not being good to Leo. But Michelle just does not like Leo. He knows the man is trying to take their home.
Carla is with Leo at his place. She tells him that it's late and she has to go. She kisses him good night. But before she can leave, Mom comes in to talk with Leo. She mentions to him that he promised to be with her this afternoon and she was holding him to that promise. She notices that a woman has been in the room and thinks it was Lisa. She accuses Leo of having sex with Lisa. He denies it.
Later Mom meets with Lisa. She accuses Lisa of having sex with Leo. Liza says what the heck are you talking about Maria Grazia. It wasn't her. Mom laughs are her own foolishness. Leo arrives at the villa. Mom is thrilled because she wants to talk to him.
Michelle is now over at Lisa's place. He asks her if she is going to get undressed. He tells her that she told him about his mother and Leo in order to be able to have sex with him. He tells her that he is indifferent; without emotion or sentiment. "Nothing makes me feel alive." Lisa then tells Michelle that Carla is Leo's lover. Leo is very angry and says: "This time he's not going to get away with it!" Michelle walks in the rain to Leo's place. Leo answers the door and Michelle pulls out a gun and fires. But the gun only goes click, click. In his rush Michelle forgot to load the gun. He fights with Leo a bit and then demands to see Carla. Carla comes out of hiding. Carla tries to explain the situation to her brother, but he does not want an explanation. He tells Leo that his sister and he are just alike: they are both trying to provoke a reaction. (That makes sense since the brother and sister are depressed and are not feeling much of anything except desolation.) Michelle asks Carla to go away with him, but she says that nothing can change. Leo tells Carla that he will marry her. He then gives her four reasons for marrying him: 1) you are financially ruined; 2) no one will marry you given your situation; 3) I have money; and 4) I don't love you.
Carla turns to Michelle and asks: to talk about "our new life; isn't that absurd? We could never find the strength for it." Michelle asks her: "When are you going to tell mother?" and she answers: "Tomorrow".
Michelle talks with Lisa and suggests that they eat dinner together and then go to her apartment. Lisa is very happy.
An o.k. movie. It seems a little too much like a stage play made into a film. There are long scenes in one or more places. The family friend has or has had all three women in the villa as his lovers. And now he is going to abuse his influence even farther by plotting to take the villa from the broke Maria Grazia. Life kind of sucks at the villa. Leo is busy trying to seduce Carla and steal the villa, Carla is depressed, Michelle is depressed, Mom is upset that she does not see Leo as much anymore, and Lisa is upset about not making any amorous progress with Michelle. The whole clan is falling apart and descending into decadence.. All these machinations are acts of emotional incest and abuse. There are just too many clan members finding their sexual partners within the clan itself. The movie is supposed to reflect the decline of Italy that leads to the rise of the Fascists, but it is certainly not made obvious that this is the statement of the movie. You have to sort of read between the lines to see the family's descent as the breakdown of decency in Italy.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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