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Marcello Mastroianni stars in Luchino Visconti's stunningly stylized adaptation of the famous Dostoevsky story.
Demy adored this film, which was a great influence on his own sumptuous heartbreaker Lola: "White Nights is wonderful," he said in an interview, "it's one of the best Viscontis." A true buried treasure, screened tonight in a rare print, White Nights gave Marcello Mastroianni his first major screen role as a man who sustains the hope of a suicidal woman (Maria Schell) in a series of nocturnal rendezvous, and then watches helplessly as she returns to the sinister man who originally spurned her (Jean Marais, lurking like a death figure out of Murnau). One of Visconti's richest, most satisfying works, White Nights is a work of startling artifice (the director had a city created on the Cinecittà lot that is like a twilight dream of St. Petersburg) and had a profound influence on Alain Resnais and the directors of the French New Wave; Truffaut called it "the best of its genre." (Bresson made the same Dostoevsky story into his ineffable Four Nights of a Dreamer, shown last year in our Bresson retrospective.) "Schell's performance is among the most memorable creations of the cinema" (Andrew Sarris).