When I think of my college self, that mixed-up twenty-year-old sitting in the back of the history of cinema class watching 8-1/2 for the first time, I think of the actresses: Claudia Cardinale, Anouk Aimée. Marcello Mastroianni’s film director character searching for his pure muse in a mash-up world of film illusion and memory, and never quite finding her. That was the time when I started to get it together, when I discovered Fellini and Truffaut and most of all Jean Renior during the same spring that I discovered James Joyce. And most of all, what I remember is the European actresses of the 1960s: Monica Vitti, Jeanne Moreau, Jane Birkin.
It would become an obsession. Hours sitting in the university library scouring Cahiers du Cinema, when I couldn’t read a word of French. As much as I admired the auteurs, it was always about the actresses. When I was in my twenties and I wanted so desperately to go to Europe, I secretly dreamed of meeting a girl who looked like Sandrine Bonnaire.
Flash forward twenty years to a dollar cinema in Altamonte Springs, Fla., where La Dolce Vita is playing in a nearly empty theater. What I recall most vividly is that scene early in the movie where the Mastroianni character is with his mistress, Maddalena, played by the incandescent Anouk Aimée. As I watched the interplay between the two of them, the beautiful, lithe Aimée with her black dress and sunglasses, her slender hands and fingers, I couldn’t help thinking that this is how it is supposed to be. This is what I should want in my life, someone smart, articulate, yet somehow elusive. And this is when I began to realize that I never had it together, after all.