Adua and her Friends (Adua e le Compagne)

  • Adua and her Friends (Adua e le Compagne)
  • Director: Antonio Pietrangeli
  • Year: 1960

Antonio Pietrangeli's 1960 film Adua e le Compagne is the story of a group of prostitutes in the years immediately following Italy's 1958 outlawing of legalised brothels (known as case di tolleranza - houses of tolerance).

The story

Simone Signoret in Adua e le Compagne Simone Signoret in Adua e le Compagne

Adua and three of her colleagues pool their resources with the intention of opening a restaurant on the outskirts of Rome. At first they intend a strictly legitimate operation, which should be possible as their previous records are supposed to have been destroyed. However, their past means that are unable to obtain the license necessary to open the restaurant. ('I thought they'd burned our records?' asks one of the girls, to which Adua replies, 'perhaps they lost the matches.') As a result, they are forced to go into business with the shady Ercoli, who demands that they treat their customers to a little more than just a frittata with liver and onions.

As well as the central plot, each of the girls has their own sub-plot, in which the success of the restaurant plays its part. One has a son who she's hardly seen, another a potential husband. Only Adua's affair with Pietro (played by Marcello Mastroianni, fresh from La Dolce Vita) seems at first to be completely untarnished by her past.

Adua e le Compagne & neorealism

Antonio Petrangeli started his career as a screenwriter on early neorealist films, writing La Terra Trema and collaborating on Ossessione for Visconti. It's tempting to consider Adua a le Compagne a late addition to the neorealist canon. However, Italian cinema had changed a lot by the end of the 1950s and while Adua e le Compagne does deal with contemporary social issues, the technique of the film is very different, with its professional cast (including Simone Signoret as Adua and Marcello Mastroianni as her lover) and jazzy score.

Another change is the film's attitude; despite some sniping at the government and at social attitudes in general (for example, the apparent perseverance of the girls' records) the story is presented not as a call to action over social inequalities (as were the best of the neorealist films) but primarily as a morality tale. The girls of Adua e le Compagne are not the helpless victims of postwar Italian society a decade before, but citizens verging on the ability to take control over their own destinies. It is the past, in which they are not entirely innocent, that has the power to destroy them, rather than the present.

DVD Details

Adua e le Compagne has been released on Region 2 DVD in the UK by World Cinema Ltd. It's packaged with a trailer reel, stills gallery and filmographies.