Le Notti Bianche and Four Nights of a Dreamer: Whirlwind Romance vs. Dysfunctional Romance

Normally, I don’t write film essays, but after re-watching these two similar films, I felt like writing a short compare and contrast essay of sorts. So, I’ve created an Essays category in case I ever have more of these.

Le Notti Bianche (Luchino Visconti, 1957)
Four Nights of a Dreamer (Robert Bresson, 1971)

Luchino Visconti’s Le Notti Bianche and Robert Bresson’s Four Nights of a Dreamer might both be based on Dostoyevsky’s White Nights, but they are about as different of films as they get. Oddly enough, when it’s all said and done, they have the same effect.

Visconti’s interpretation takes viewers into a whirlwind of dramatic romance. His characters talk like each is their last conversation. Mario tells Natalia that he’s shy, but this can’t be further from the truth. He stares at her with big eyes, and talks endlessly about his feelings for her. She has an innocent cuteness to her and despite still being in love with another man, treats Mario as if she is moving on for him. They spend their time in the night-lit streets, and one evening find themselves in a night club where the dance, play, and truly start to fall in love. (This is by far the best scene in the film; it’s fantastic.) After Natalia gives up all hope her ex-flame will return, she and Mario talk of a relationship, even an engagement.

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Bresson’s interpretation, however, features a rough and perhaps slightly disturbed Jacques. He stops Marthe from jumping off a bridge and quickly becomes obsessed with her. She asks to hear his history, and he proceeds to tell her of an afternoon where an old classmate he didn’t even remember stopped by his apartment for a quick chat. If that isn’t odd enough, he records himself saying Marthe’s name over and over, and plays the tape in public. The first time I saw this, I didn’t catch it, but I think Bresson wants us to assume there’s something off about this guy. Jacques and Marthe spend time together while she longs for her ex-flame to return, rarely talking, mostly just listening to various city musicians while Jacques tries to feel Marthe up. Yet, through the weirdness, the two have something strangely charming going on.

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Though Visconti and Bresson approach the material in completely opposite fashions, when the conclusion comes and Natalia and Marthe leave Mario and Jacques, both are extremely heartbreaking. Natalia hugs Mario, convincing him they had fooled themselves into love. They both cry, and the relationship is over. Marthe kisses Jacques, says nothing, and walks away. Jacques is affected, but not visibly so. But as a viewer, both are like a knife to the gut. Whether it be whirlwind or dysfunctional, we all love romance, and despite two different approaches, heartbreak happens.

Le Notti Bianche – 9/10
Four Nights of a Dreamer –
8.75/10

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3 Responses to “Le Notti Bianche and Four Nights of a Dreamer: Whirlwind Romance vs. Dysfunctional Romance”

  1. Kyle King Says:

    Nice essay! It’s been a while since I read White Nights, so I don’t remember much about it. It sounds like Le Notti Bianche is closer to the novella — Dostoyevsky’s earlier work (pre-Siberian prison) tends to be pretty heart-on-its-sleeve romantic.

  2. jackskelliez Says:

    Ok just queued up Le Notti!

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