Gente del Po
One of the very greatest films ever made, ten minutes worth a hundred. The credits appear in those stencils from the Jeu de Paume under the Occupation in Frankenheimer’s The Train.
Men and women on the river “tick the cabin clock.” The little daughter needs medicine from a town, gets it and a bedtime story. Storm.
Juvenal’s hussies, “pray they never throw aught on your pate but merds.”
The suggestion is that Vigo (À propos de Nice, L’Atalante) is the main influence on these early films, of which it has been unjustly said that their fame rests on Antonioni’s later work.
Of course, Chaplin’s City Lights.
Black cat, broken mirror. And then, the sublime traditions of the people, a sort of narrative poetry.
The fotoromanzo, drawn and photographed.
Cronaca di un amore
It ends in 1943 when she breaks it off and marries an industrialist, it resumes seven years later when the husband out of curiosity hires a private detective to look up her past, disturbing the embers.
Canby of the New York Times saw the film twenty-five years later and pronounced it laughable, “completely without intentional humor,” even “tacky.”
Antonioni tells the greatest joke, if you owned the biggest paper in town, what would you do? Nothing.
Thus critics like Canby. The lovers look on as a girl dies, but can’t bring themselves to continue, same with the husband when he too dies accidentally. They will and they won’t, some are like that, always were.
La Signora senza camilie
The title evokes Duse and Bernhardt. Ten years later, Fellini recomposed the whole affair as 8½ (via La Dolce Vita), ten years after that came Elia Kazan’s The Last Tycoon, then the next decade brought Antonioni to the remake and companion piece, Identification of a Woman.
The central point occurs fairly early on in a film studio with a piece of a set, just a bed and a wall or two with a window. The producer is there with writers, grips, the costume department, actors, all holding conversations around the nondescript painted flats and props, it’s decided to have a run-through, the camera finds itself in position for a two-shot of a passionate kiss, and suddenly the set is perfectly authentic, the starlet (a new discovery with one film under her belt and no previous experience whatsoever) is very photogenic, so much so that her new husband, the man who discovered her, shuts down the film and invests millions in a Joan of Arc for her. Its failure in Venice restarts the production.
Alain Cuny, who plays the actor, counsels her doubts by advising her to take acting lessons. Her new lover, a diplomat, has no wish to marry her. Reading Pirandello doesn’t bring her any roles worth signing up for, and the star of Addio Signora and La Donna senza Destino ends up working on Slave of the Pyramids, smiling through her tears for the press. And so, the girl behind the counter becomes an actress after all.
Serafin’s cinematography (which excited the jealousy of Rohmer) is matched by Fusco’s score for saxophones and piano out of La Création du Monde.
“The generation that were children during the war and when they opened their eyes saw only one thing in the world, the general mobilization of violence.”
It seems to them a good idea, murdering a rich Parisian schoolchum who isn’t.
Serafin, Fusco, Rosi assistant director, Alain Cuny in Paris to assist.
Thus it is the war in miniature, as it were, The Losers. In Rome, fall and extinction of a murderous black marketeer. In London well before Blowup, death of a lady in the park.
And how have the dunderheads of the Press responded to this magnum opus? “Ambitious, resolutely downbeat” (Michael Hastings, Rovi).
The artist goes his way, the fashion maven goes hers, and that’s that.
Cukor’s The Women with men, for what that’s worth, gives the title.
Men don’t understand women, women say, women don’t understand men, men say.
The tale told to impossible limits, ahead of Il Grido.
Many writers have noted the superb technique, the camera in motion, etc.
The two personages travel on parallel tracks, leaving old times (a model, a workman) to fend for themselves.
The other pole is Lumet’s The Group, Antonioni’s men are a foil to his girl talk, one is just in from Rome to open the Turin branch of a fashion house, one takes sleeping pills for love, one is a grass widow to tame a husband, one is a more talented ceramicist than one’s painter husband, one is terribly beautiful and the center of the known universe.
A.O. Scott of the New York Times on the belated American release, “shot through with longing, ennui and existential anguish.”
J. Hoberman (Village Voice) points out Mekas and Sarris saw it and liked it.
One David Fear of Time Out has “this muted melodrama”. A colleague finds “intensity and grip.”
TV Guide, “Antonioni delves deep beneath the exterior of his characters to explore their mental makeup... a concern with man’s psychological relationship to an isolated environment is the prime factor in establishing this approach.”
The idea is essentially to convey photographically an entire film, as though touring the gallery where pictures are hung. This accounts for the criticism sometimes leveled at the two leading actors. All of the emotional content of the film is in the pictures, which are as beautiful as any ever taken.
The initial exposition presents a slight difficulty, and this in turn accounts for the critics’ general assertion of vagueness. It can be very clearly stated. A village woman is told by an official that her husband, working in Australia, has died. She tells the man with whom she has been living for seven years, and by whom she has a daughter, that they are finished. She rejects his reasoning and his pleas, he slaps her and commands her to come home (before witnesses on the street), she refuses definitively. This discharges him of all further responsibility, he maintains his dignity and leaves town with the daughter.
His adventures on the road might conceivably be described as “picaresque”, an old flame, then a buxom widow who runs a wayside gas station bought with the sale of a farm she couldn’t maintain, on to dredge workers, finally a prostitute among the fishing shacks. He sends the girl home, and eventually returns there himself.
Army guards bar his path, the town is set to be turned into an airfield. The farms are ablaze, the villagers are protesting. He gets past the guards, sees his mistress with her new baby, walks to the empty refinery tower where he used to work as an able mechanic (“I could see my house from there”) and falls to his death, eliciting a cry from the woman.
It is all of a piece, yet very few critics have “followed the affair”, and the best of them (young Godard in Arts) reflected peripherally that “Antonioni, for instance, wasn’t able to make it in Il Grido.” It all sufficed Welles for a look in Othello, and Pagnol ends it happily ever after in La Femme du boulanger.
Hitchcock said his field was the melodrama. The purity of Antonioni’s analysis shows Rebecca in a rugged light and encapsulates the stylistic accomplishment of Notorious in that floating camera on the anchored boat.
Anna takes a powder, the diplomat’s daughter. Her architect fiancé lands on his feet with her best friend.
Crowther really should have seen this coming, it’s strictly from Hollywood.
You know all about it if you’ve seen Chaplin’s A Countess from Hong Kong, for example.
The details multiply, and to very great effect.
Just one of those lordly things, her father doesn’t approve, the friend is a true friend, but she disappears, poof.
All the way through Antonioni’s œuvre.
The writer’s life seen very satirically through the eyes of his wife as a fight among tall boys, boys sending up rockets, a boring occasion for signing books, a dull millionaire’s party.
Out of her mouth comes wisdom, however. As for the writer, he expresses the literary position of a Char, “here we are again alone in tête-à-tête, o Poesy. Your return signifies that I must once again measure myself with you, with your juvenile hostility, with your tranquil thirst for space, and hold quite ready for your joy that equilibrating unknown at my disposal.”
Bosley Crowther of the New York Times, “here, as in L’Avventura, it is not the situation so much as it is the intimations of personal feelings, doubts and moods that are the substance of the film.” Anton Bitel (Film4), “nearly two hours of chilly stasis.” Time Out, “bourgeois alienation.”
Andrew Sarris, with L’Eclisse and Il Deserto rosso “films in which he sought to graft Antoniennui onto the world at large” (The American Cinema).
A young woman leaves her abstract intellectual fiancé because she is diffident, “I don’t know” is her byword.
She meets a young trader on the Roman stock exchange and gradually falls in love.
In between, it amuses her to dress up as an African tribeswoman in the apartment of a white Kenyan girlfriend. The music of the drums is heard at night in the wind along a modern structure.
Civilization and Its Discontents, as in Welles’ The Trial a species of inhability. The market rises and falls on the floor, the girlfriend is not attuned to culture, the fiancé leaves her to it, the full moon fills the screen (an image in the photographer’s studio of Blowup), a streetlight at night.
Il Deserto rosso
Continuing plainly from L’Eclisse, and with an industrial view rather than the cityscapes of Welles’ The Trial, Red Desert sends up the postmodern in a madwoman drifting from the world her husband lives in (he runs a large factory or refinery) into a disconnected dream of opening a shop on Via Alighieri that sells—what, she doesn’t know.
Metropolis is mockingly indicated, and The Seven Year Itch is compared (Giuliana in the factory, her hair ruffled, avoiding a steam vent), the theme proceeds from Sette canne, un vestito and looks ahead in quite another way to The Passenger, with Il Grido mentioned significantly.
Images, Repulsion, A Woman Under the Influence, all figure as more or less distantly related in various ways.
Beckett’s “Dante and the Lobster” takes part in the joke, which is very much along the lines of Pinter’s “Trouble in the Works”. A similarity exists with Losey’s The Servant, the project entails a factory in Patagonia, importantly.
The considerations of the painter are foremost, who creates his work unmoved and later admires it for some aspect, “this leg”. His work lacks the immediacy of the photographer’s, to which the latter’s manager adds “knocked off” captions.
The painter lacks precision of a kind, the only photograph remaining after the studio and darkroom are burglarized is the one ambiguous shot of the body in the park, it resembles the painter’s style. The crucial blowup shows quite plainly a man in the shrubbery behind the fence, holding a silencered pistol.
Either version of The Man Who Knew Too Much has the pistol in the concert hall and seen by only one person.
Antonioni likens the critic to a tennis-player who has a net but neither ball nor racket. The game is serious and intently pursued but wholly insubstantial.
Bosley Crowther of the New York Times, “how a picture as meaningful as this one could be blackballed is hard to understand. Perhaps it is because it is too candid, too uncomfortably disturbing, about the dehumanizing potential of photography.”
Andrew Sarris (The American Cinema), “half mod and half Marxist.”
From Here to
Eternity via anti-gravitation.
The persistence of American vision—this film was understood at once in Cancel My Reservation, echoes appeared
in The Last Wave, Straight Time, Altered States, etc.
The student body transferred from Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse, its dreams and nightmares, North by Northwest (and The Longest Day), Woman In The Dunes, Greed...
The beautiful finale is an homage to 2001: A Space Odyssey. “Pioneers!” or Blow-Up Goes West. An incipient pan anticipating The Passenger finds its completion there.
The famous apotheosis at the Hotel de la Gloria establishes it as “a clean, well-lighted place” amid the bloody wrack of a Spanish sundown.
The Passenger is kaleidoscopic before this, full of Italianate sparsity of line, the flying genius of 8½ and the eternal feminine leading us on, all of which is particularly suited to an understanding of Rimbaud, popularly and academically thought to have a mythical aspect.
The opening desert expresses his dilemma among the Parnassians, whereas his true position arises with the towers of Casa Mila (Gaudí), whilst he is busy raising the dead body of commerce to life, and finding himself without a leg to stand on in “the mercantile Gehenna”.
Beckett at 29 almost went in for commercial aviation.
Il Mistero di Oberwald
Cocteau’s Castle of Paradox, L’Aquila a due teste. “The King was killed because he wanted to build theaters and castles. They want to kill me because I am like him. What can you do if our families have such a strong passion for art?”
Sturm und drang, armed search for the proscribed poet who so much resembles the assassinated King. Darkness in the wood, heedless rabbit, careless owl, snails in their thousands, a thrashing wounded antlered deer. Sole refuge with the widowed Queen, hidebound under the dowager Archduchess her mother-in-law “who is etiquette, I am the storm.”
A great and vivid hallucination. The colored gels of Joshua Logan’s South Pacific here recur in a different way but much the same critical response followed, after a manner of speaking. Meanwhile Antonioni addresses with Hammer-like precision the stage effect of the late King’s entrance in travail, as it were.
The castle staff speak German, the peripatetic Queen’s retinue Italian. The dog and the cat in the comfy kitchen. The inspiration is perhaps Rossellini’s great Giovanna d’Arco al rogo, Monica Vitti leading the sublime cast takes in stride even the window aria “La tempesta è finita” (Eine Alpensinfonie) and sleeps in a chair to end Act I, disappearing into Verklärte Nacht by moonlight.
The Queen grieves in isolation, never showing her face publicly since the day of the assassination, her wedding day. A police state is maintained by Count de Foehn who tells her, “Your Majesty, if she will permit me, is wrong to take an interest in poets. Such people always end up bringing disorder to our society.” The poet has made an essential mistake in blaming the monarch, an admirer of his poem “The End of Royalty”, and has been sent by the anarchist leadership to kill her. She gives him three days to do the job or die at her hands (she is an excellent shot, carries poison on her person, and longs to join her husband in death), and makes him her reader. A question of assassination set on by the Count and the Archduchess, the assassin to be eliminated afterward.
The subplot describes the tormented, jealous love of her former reader, Edith de Berg, a tool of the Archduchess, and the Queen’s devoted Felix, who has never seen her face but once, secretly.
A composition of supreme interest (screenplay by the director and Tonino Guerra). “‘The Queen thinks she is a poem. The murderer thinks he is a poet,’” thus the Queen on her police chief, adding this admonition to the poet, “your group think more or less the same.” The two of them are “an idea facing an idea... a solitude facing a solitude... a man and a woman in the hunt, two equal persons,” the last a repugnant notion to the indignant scribe.
“Then a Regent would be appointed, as prescribed in the constitution. The Archduchess would reign, but it would be Count de Foehn reigning. Ecco la politica.”
L’amore e la morte (Don Juan). “They wanted me to become Queen and they wouldn’t teach me how to spell.” The poet’s orders, tell the Archduchess off, make Felix de Willenstein a commanding general, govern, no need for a dissolution of parliament or change of ministers, “no-one will touch you, I assure you” (horn call, Brahms’ First, the Queen on a white horse amid splendid abstractions of yellow sky and blue mountains). “We die of legends,” says Count de Foehn, “they suffocate us” (cf. Kazan’s Viva Zapata!).
The Queen asks the poet, “did you think of me always?”
“My poor love!”
“Now my rebellion will be against those who want to do you harm, who conspire and intrigue against you because the only thing they want is power.”
Tod und Verklärung.
Vincent Canby of the New York Times, “an almost perfect festival film. That is, it’s a movie that probably wouldn’t last five minutes in front of an audience in control of its wits and with no more than a passing interest in Art for its own sake.
“It’s based on a foolish play...”
TV Guide, “a must-see”. Jonathan Rosenbaum (Chicago Reader), “singular, to say the least.” Time Out, “oddly misjudged”. Michael Hastings (All Movie Guide), “psychological period piece”.
“A beautiful trifle,” Pauline Kael called L’Aigle à deux têtes (dir. Jean Cocteau).
Identificazione di una donna
A woman is identified with sunlight, the star of this planet, whose mysteries are invoked in a mind-shattering final image (by way of Maj. Amberson’s monologue) which is like the end of 8½ in reverse, the director’s quest for an ideal expression (“an idea with feminine contours”) becomes a jejune science-fiction image that signifies the dialogue with nature he has been seeking.
His frotteuse of a tribade vanishes in a fog, reappears at his country house, and departs for good. A liaison with a Nature Theater of Oklahoma dancer is abridged in Venice when she learns that she’s pregnant by a former attachment.
The taut irony of La Signora senza camilie is rethought in terms of a more direct utterance. Small details are turned to account in this way, the chastening husband of the actress in the earlier film was seen to enter the shot with OLD ENGLAND behind him as a neon sign, here the frotteuse has a tale of English university life (Atlantic College, in Cardiff moreover). The characteristic smear of light on oil portraits is repeated unchanged. The famous fog sequence almost echoes “Toby Dammit” (there’s a give-and-take with Fellini all along, a friendly rivalry), and Venice is viewed more fully.
When Vincent Canby wrote his review, a marvel of perfect inanity, it was evidently decided that one of them had to go. Which is why Antonioni is no longer served at court.
12 registi per 12 città
The eternal city.
Beyond the Clouds
The director’s viewpoint, above it all in a passenger jet, on a terrace, in a hotel window.
All the stories are the same, as explained. Carmen, the girl who killed her father, the mistress-métier, the girl who goes to God.
With a gloss on copyists, the master impulse (Cézanne).
Lo Sguardo di Michelangelo
The Romans knew how to carve a face like Antonioni’s, glimpsed amid the sculpture. They did not know how to carve the Moses.