As proud of his beautiful young wife as he is of his latest gleaming Alfa Romeo, a wealthy Milanese fabric manufacturer becomes suspicious of her after several years of marriage and hires an investigator.
In the love triangle of Michelangelo Antonioni's 1950 feature film debut Story of a Love Affair, part of the Summer in Italy retrospective on at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, appearances matter in several ways.
Certainly, Paola (Lucia Bose) is a Botticelli Venus in furs even among the disaffected rich of postwar Milan.
"How do I look?" is society's preoccupation and Paola's main occupation as she haunts dress salons and bridge clubs while wearing the latest styles.
At a fashion show, she literally glitters – a trophy wife in head-to-toe sequins, swathed in sable. "I know her; she's beautiful," someone says.
The costumes are by noted fashion designer Ferdinando Sarmi (who, in his only screen role, also plays the cuckolded husband).
The stylishness of this noirish melodrama about infidelity and postwar malaise accumulates in layers, and it's not merely visual.
The superficiality is also expressed in the dialogue, and emphasizes the director's social critique.
"You're not undressing here," Paola tells her husband when he wanders into her boudoir, not long after lamenting to her lover that "The worst moment has come; it's time to get dressed."
Screens Sunday, July 19, tiff.net.