TrustMovies hazzard a guess: Because it was about a woman, that's why. And back in the 1960s, this was, well, not so important. Fellini's La Dolce Vita, made five years previous, got all the fuss. That one showed us the face of Italy via a successful male character, while I KNEW HER WELL (Io la conoscevo bene) tells the tale of a not-so-successful young woman struggling to find herself and her place in the Italy of the day.
Antonio Pietrangeli, shown at left, is practically unknown here in the U.S., and after viewing his movie you'll wonder how and why this could be. The filmmaker died, very untimely, in 1968 at the age of 49, and this was his penulti-mate full-length movie. But what a legacy it provides! (It will certanly make you want to see more of Pietrangeli's work.) Had I Knew Her Well obtained a U.S. theatrical release, I suspect the man's reputation would be much stronger here than it is. Certainly some of our critics would have seen how vital and important a movie it was. And remains.
Stefania Sandrelli, shown above and below, the best role of her quite illustrious career, and she rose to the occasion perfectly with the kind of intuitive, quiet-yet-spectacular performance that happens maybe once in a career.
Divorce Italian Style, among the other two movies she made in 1961 -- plays a young girl from an impoverished farm family in the provinces who has come to Rome to make something of herself. She uses her beauty and what skills she has to find her way into some kind of career -- maybe films -- and we follow her from scene to scene, man to man, one career step to the next, and as she goes, we grow to know her well.
Joachim Fuchsberger, below), realizes how much more on-the-ball she is than he -- even we -- had thought. Later, at a party for a successful actor of the day, Adriana plays a supporting role, as that actor and his current producer make nasty fun of an over-the-hill actor (Ugo Tognazzi), as Adriana is photographed for a segment on a soon-to-be-released newsreel. The result of this provides the film with one of its most unsettling moments.
Franco Nero to Mario Adorf, Nino Manfredi and Karin Dor (below, left) -- all of whom essay their small roles with aplomb. But it's Ms Sandrelli who proves the heart and soul of the film. See it, and you will never forget her. (The actress appears in a relatively current interview in one of the bonus features on the DVD and Blu-ray discs, and what she has to say to us about the film, its writer/director, and why it holds up so well today is so worth hearing.)
Netflix, I immediately went to my computer and ordered a Blu-ray copy and as soon as it arrived a few days later, I watched it again so that my spouse could see it (he was as impressed as I). This is the first time in years that I've purchased a film I've already seen, but I plan to keep it again and share it with as many people as I can. It's that special.
The Criterion Collection, on DVD and Blu-ray, for rental or purchase. Both versions provide, as usual via Criterion, exemplary transfers.