Antonioni, Michelangelo (Vol. 20)
Michelangelo Antonioni 1912–
Italian film director, screenwriter, and film critic.
Antonioni is best described as a director who exposes the core of the human soul. His films depict human alienation and the destruction of established values.
Cronaca di un amore, Antonioni's first feature film, contains qualities characteristic of much of his later work: desolate landscapes, unresolved plot, and discontented, aimless characters. In Le amiche, based on a short story by Cesare Pavese, Antonioni focuses on male-female relationships, using sparse dialogue. This technique would later become an Antonioni trademark.
L'avventura brought Antonioni international renown. In the film, the plot remains unfulfilled, and Antonioni's use of such an unusual technique caused an uproar at the 1960 Cannes Film Festival. L'avventura is the first of three films to center on revealing aspects of relationships. La notte and L'eclisse also rely on elaborate detail to conceal the emptiness of affluent life.
Blow-Up portrays a male photograher caught up in the mod society of London in the mid-sixties. Based on a story by Julio Cortázar, Blow-Up relates an artist's struggle to reveal truth through rationalism. His next film, Zabriskie Point, was filmed in the United States and is generally viewed as an intense depiction of the futility of both idealism and materialism. In 1975, Antonioni directed The Passenger, a film which contains many characteristics of his earlier works. However, Antonioni's reliance on existential themes has prompted critics to compare the film to Camus's The Stranger.
Writing on Blow-Up, Max Kozloff has defined Antonioni's "repertoire of themes": "Without doubt, most of his earlier perceptions are present: of the insufficiency and transcience of human affection, of chilled eroticism, of the muteness of objects, of intermittent hysteria, and a sundered social fabric." (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 73-76.)
Unlike the first works of many directors (Bresson, for example), Cronaca di un Amore can be seen today not only as a fully realised work but also as a virtually complete definition of Antonioni's artistic personality and technique. Significantly, it ran counter to the neo-realist method then prevailing in Italy. (p. 8)
Antonioni is a man of the left and certain social preoccupations make themselves felt in this film. Guido's studies were interrupted by the war and he has since been forced to earn his living as a car salesman. When he suggests to Paola that she leave her husband, her ironic glance at his packet of Nazionali cigarettes is warning enough that she cannot accept a life without luxury. Throughout all Antonioni's work, one finds unsentimental illustrations of his belief that the emotions are often conditioned by social factors and tastes. At the end of Le Amiche, for example, Clelia refuses to marry the workman who loves her. She has made a life for herself in the haute couture world of Turin and is unwilling to slip back to the slums of her childhood; for she, like Claudia in L'Avventura, is really an outsider in the world of wealth.
Whenever Antonioni's social preoccupations gain the upper hand, however, his work seems to suffer. I Vinti (The Vanquished), for example, deals with delinquent youth in France, Italy and England…. [Beyond] a general suggestion that the...
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Structurally [L'Avventura] is remarkable for its almost complete lack of resolution—particularly in the case of Anna, who is, after all, one of the two leading characters in the first part of the film. Little explanation is given for her disappearance, and none at all of what she has done….
We receive information as it is presented to the characters, in the wrong, or rather "illogical," order. Example: we are not actually told until near the end of the film, when she mentions it to Patrizia, that Claudia comes from a poor family. In retrospect one can find sufficient evidence of her social position earlier in the film, but one only realizes its significance after one has been told—Antonioni relies heavily on the audience's power of recollection. (p. 3)
We are shown what the characters see and learn what they learn, but without identifying with them, so that our appreciation of their feelings must be primarily intellectual. We are therefore more conscious than the characters of the meaning of their behavior (as we would not be if we started identifying with them). This places us in a position to correlate our observations of all the characters and reach the general conclusions which Antonioni expects us to draw. (pp. 3, 5)
Why should we condemn [Anna's fiance, Sandro, for pursuing Claudia]? The expected answer is that standard woman's-pic gambit: "If you don't just know, I can't...
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[The Eclipse] begins, as L'Avventura and La Notte ended, at dawn. Outside the window a water-tower looms like some futuristic mushroom; inside, a man sits rigid in a chair, inertia containing anger, while a girl restlessly circles the room. The affair is over; they have talked themselves to a standstill; and this time neither can pick up the shattered pieces. It is, unmistakably and in every detail, an Antonioni sequence…. Intellectually, one is aware of what Antonioni is doing and why he has chosen to do it in this dehumanising way. But at the same time, in its deliberate echoing of the more sombre moods of La Notte, the scene pushes style towards the thin edge of mannerism….
Far from being a return journey over ground already covered, it takes Antonioni out into new areas, covers a wider range than perhaps any of his films since Le Amiche has attempted. The continuity is one of feeling, never of plot, and the second affair, which contains whatever of plot the film has to offer, only begins when the nature of the heroine has been fully exposed….
[Changes] between script and screen show Antonioni refining down his conception, giving the film over during its making to a mood which is also an expression of his heroine. What Vittoria is looking for she hardly knows—and her refrain of "I don't know" becomes an accompaniment to both affairs. Her intellectual fiancé, Riccardo, has...
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One of the most fascinating aspects of Cronaca di un amore is its objective study of the clash of social standards. The glossy bars, the elegance of Paola's clothes, and the luxury of Fontana's home … are contrasted expertly with the dingy hotels where Paola and Guido (who has "degenerated" into a car salesman since their first affair) are compelled to meet…. The closing images of the film, as Paola stands weeping in a deserted street at night, her opulent evening dress splashed with mud, summarise this contrast. There is in Paola a fundamental fear of poverty and squalor. (pp. 9-10)
Technically, this first feature provides a foretaste of the methods Antonioni uses in his more mature work. Long takes & elaborate panning shots are prolific, and the scene on the bridge, when Paola and her lover nervously decide on the murder of Fontana, runs for almost four minutes. The tension and evasion that are the film's overtones are subtly explored by Antonioni's groupings. For example, as the lovers wait for Fontana so that they can kill him, one sees Paola looking fixedly towards the lower right-hand corner of the frame, while Guido is viewed slightly from above with his back to Paola. The angle of the shot serves to lengthen the woman's stare and to stress the mental strain of the situation. (p. 10)
Apart from certain individual scenes, however, Cronaca di un amore remains very much an apprentice work,...
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Empiricism has always been the agnostic's epistemology, and Antonioni is a radical agnostic. In his films there is never any certainty, any definite or absolute truth. The meaning of single events is often ambiguous, and cumulatively these events add up to a picture of a world from which order, value and logic have disappeared. This should not be taken in too metaphysical a sense. The characters in Antonioni films do not go around, like the followers of Sartre or [Maurice] Merleau-Ponty, earnestly trying to put back the essences into existence. They are simply faced with the business of living in a world which offers of itself no certainty and no security, at least not in the immediate present. And when a character does seem to have assured himself somehow, through his job or through his relationship with another person, his security is probably (though not necessarily: again Antonioni is not Sartre) an illusion, for which he will have to pay before long.
This sense of fundamental insecurity which affects the more lucid of Antonioni's characters (the stupid ones are generally more or less immune, and probably happier as a result) is no doubt largely subjective. Their particular existentialist inferno is very much of their own making. But in a less acute form the same general malaise can be seen to affect the whole of society, and to be reflected in the physical environment which modern man has created for himself and in which he has...
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John Russell Taylor
In each of [Antonioni's early films N. U. (Nettezza Urbana), L'Amorosa Menzogna, and Superstizione] the accent is, far more than in most documentaries, placed fairly and squarely on the people: the street-sweeper, the hopefuls on the fringes of show-business, the camera-shy old men and women of Camarino weaving their spells…. And the thing which all these people have in common, as pictured by Antonioni, is their solitude: the sorcerers are as alone in the modern world as the forgotten fisherman of the Po: the 'performers' in the-photo-romances are pathetic in their hopeless ambitions and set apart by the tawdry glamour which surrounds them in the eyes of their equally foolish and pathetic readers; even with the street-cleaners, who do a job of work just like anyone else and no doubt lead perfectly ordinary family lives, the emphasis is placed rather on their aspect as 'forgotten men', moving unnoticed about the city streets, doing the most squalid work for a populace which asks only to remain unconscious of their existence. To match this view of life the style of photography adopted is correspondingly bare and unadorned, avoiding strong contrasts and concentrating on the middle range of greys to evoke the misty banks of the Po, the cheerless Marshes, the empty streets of Rome at dawn and nightfall. Already, without being more than a little wise after the event, we can see the hand of the mature Antonioni at work in these small but very...
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[The Red Desert] is a romantic view, no doubt, of the industrial process. But it belongs to another order of romanticism from the Soviet-style worship of controlled power, or the cottage industry idealism which expresses itself in a loathing of the conveyor-belt and the factory. It is forms and colours, architectural firmness and clarity of line, which Antonioni emphasises: the object rather than its purpose. (p. 80)
Antonioni is employing colour as the major unsettling element in a total landscape of disturbing strangeness. It is a winter landscape, in which people look pinched and chilled, and the light in any case plays tricks with colour values. In the last sequence of The Eclipse Antonioni made the ordinary look remote and ominous. Here he takes a step back, as it were, towards the more alien surroundings of L'Avventura or Il Grido, where the characters not only felt lost, but were lost.
In this countryside around Ravenna, ships sail through the mist, as in the Norfolk Broads, so that they appear to have invaded the land. At the end of what critics seem to have agreed, on rather slender evidence, to describe as the "orgy sequence", the group of Sunday afternoon idlers precipitately abandon their harbour shack when a ship which has docked alongside hoists a yellow quarantine flag. Giuliana stares at her four friends, each standing isolated in the gathering fog, looking towards...
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[The scene where the young woman offers herself to the photographer in exchange for the film is the most important incident] in the long chain of circumstances out of which Michelangelo Antonioni has expertly fashioned the fuse that finally ignites his Blow-Up, which seems to me one of the finest, most intelligent, least hysterical expositions of the modern existential agony we have yet had on film. The most obvious of its many endlessly discussible implications—that we are so submerged in sensation and its pursuit that we cannot feel genuine emotion any more—is hardly novel. But the cool specificity of Antonioni's imagery (it always reminds me of Henri Cartier-Bresson's great still photography), his effortless, wonderfully intelligent control of his medium, the feeling he conveys of knowing precisely what he wants to say, and the sense that his perfection of style grows organically out of his awareness, not out of a desire to show off cinematic technique—these are indeed novelties in a day when febrile frenzy is often mistaken for mature motion picture art. (pp. 91-2)
But if the central symbolic mystery—like that of the disappearance of the girl in Antonioni's earlier L'Avventura—remains insoluble, the quality of daily life as it is experienced by his characters has that brilliant hard-edged clarity that we most often associate with the dream state. In particular, the contrast between the almost sexual passion...
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[What] would we think of a man who conducted a leisurely tour of "swinging" London, lingering along the flashiest routes and dawdling over a pot party and mini-orgy, while ponderously explaining that although the mod scene appears to be hip and sexy, it represents a condition of spiritual malaise in which people live only for the sensations of the moment? Is he a foolish old hypocrite or is he, despite his tiresome moralizing, a man who knows he's hooked?
It's obvious that there's a new kind of noninvolvement among youth, but we can't get at what that's all about by Antonioni's terms. He is apparently unable to respond to or to convey the new sense of community among youth, or the humor and fervor and astonishing speed in their rejections of older values; he sees only the emptiness of pop culture.
Those who enjoy seeing this turned-on city of youth, those who say of Blow-Up that it's the trip, it's where we are now in consciousness and that Antonioni is in it, part of it, ahead of it like Warhol, may have a better sense of what Antonioni is about than the laudatory critics. Despite Antonioni's negativism, the world he presents looks harmless, and for many in the audience, and not just the youthful ones, sex without "connecting" doesn't really seem so bad—naughty, maybe, but nice. Even the smoke at the pot party is enough to turn on some of the audience. And there's all that pretty color which delights the...
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[In L'Avventura, La Notte, L'Eclisse, and Il Deserto Rosso, Antonioni] does not imply that the new world is totally negative, but recognises it has many important values—the power necessary for man to master his environment; an efficiency which may improve his lot by wiping out hunger, poverty and physical pain; and the creation of a pure, abstract beauty. Yet despite these values, he also suggests that this world poses a real threat because it implies the loss of other values—of long-term personal relationships, of the uniqueness of the individual. Thus, he presents us with a clash between two incompatible value systems, which is essentially a tragic view….
Antonioni does not offer an easy answer to the problem of the conflict between the two value systems. He seems to accept the new world as inevitable although it means a sacrifice of important values from the past. The only hope seems to be understanding and a sympathetic acceptance of whatever human contact is possible. Understanding alone won't suffice—as Anna, Valentina and Guiliana demonstrate. Nor will an unthinking acceptance—as in the case of Sandro, Giovanni, Piero and Giuliana's husband. The most positive characters must achieve both, as Claudia and Vittoria ultimately do.
Although these four films focus on how changes in the modern world affect human relationships, they also imply that a similar change is taking place in art. For...
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Charles Thomas Samuels
Like L'Avventura, Blow-Up concerns the search for something that is never found. As in La Notte, the peripatetic hero fails to accomplish anything. Like the other protagonists, the photographer is the embodiment of a role, although here he is so fully defined by his function that he is not even named. As in Antonioni's other films, the climax is reached when the protagonist comes to face his own impotence….
The events in Blow-Up dramatize the same theme one finds in Antonioni's other films. The photographer, a creature of work and pleasure but of no inner force or loyalty, is unable to involve himself in life. He watches it, manipulates it; but, like all of Antonioni's male characters, he has no sense of life's purpose. Thus, when faced with a challenge, he cannot decisively act. Unable to transcend himself, except through ultimate confrontation with his soul, he represents modern paralysis. (p. 124)
[He] is part of his world. Hiding behind a tree, like the murderer, he shot with a camera what the latter shot with a gun; and he did not save the older man. He is blond, and so is the murderer. For all his aloof contempt, he is as frivolous as the mod clowns who frame his experience. In the last scene, when he hears their "tennis ball," he effectively actualizes the charade existence that they share in common. His final gesture of resignation—like Sandro's tears, Giovanni's loveless copulation,...
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In essential characteristics as in theme, Il Deserto Rosso belongs with its three immediate predecessors, in some respects carrying their tendencies to new extremes. Here for the first time the protagonist is overtly presented as neurotic, and therefore explicitly incapable of fulfilling her inner needs. At the same time, certain aspects of the film mark a new phase in Antonioni's development. In obvious ways he was breaking new ground, working in a milieu remote from the intellectual-socialite world of the preceding films, and shooting for the first time in colour. These factors may be partly responsible for the comparatively open and exploratory nature of Il Deserto Rosso….
Like so much else in the film, [Corrado's] behaviour … is extremely ambiguous. Antonioni … sees him merely as 'taking advantage of [Giuliana] and of her state of mind' ('… it is her own world which betrays her …'); but it is at least as valid (and the two views, though seemingly contradictory, are not incompatible) to see his actions as motivated by an extreme protective tenderness which is as much concern for his own vulnerability as for hers. He is drawn to her because she expresses in an extreme form his own innermost tendencies; she represents for him also the temptation of defeat, as a means of evading the need to struggle. (p. 111)
Corrado's function in the film, then, is roughly analogous to that of...
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Zabriskie Point is Antonioni's clearest statement on a world that has perhaps already ended without realizing it, leaving us all hanging on by flywheel effect waiting for the desensitized apocalypse (like the Nathanael West who haunted airports hoping for planes to crash only-they-never-crash)….
Thematically, Zabriskie Point is something of a step backwards for Antonioni. Whereas in Red Desert he seemed to be working toward a rapprochement of "science" and "feeling," he has opted here for a mindless hippie-New Left and anti-technology, anti-rational, anti-organizational expiation…. Perhaps Los Angeles convinced Antonioni that it was already too late and that blowing-it-all-up was the only way out. Or perhaps that is where Antonioni has been all along, simultaneously fascinated and repelled by modernity, doomed forever to mix Marcusean heavythink, Tom Wolfe switched-on sociology, and Vogue photography. (p. 15)
Having, perhaps, bored even himself with boring accounts of the bored Italian bourgeoisie, Antonioni now casts his lot with the Marcusean young who dare to paint obscenities on the impersonal walls of Late International Style campus architecture, urinate in corridors color-coordinated in Industrial Psychologist Modern, and copulate in computer centers. Indeed, what more apt locus than the American multiversity could Antonioni have chosen to illustrate the crises of post-industrial...
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Whether or not one agrees that Blow-Up deserves to be called a film classic is perhaps ultimately unimportant. What is clear is that it will continue to fascinate serious moviegoers. This is probably because it rests firmly on what I call the three keystones of film art—three ingredients that have been intrinsic to it from the beginning. These are the ease and gracefulness with which it treats the real world as malleable, while seeming to faithfully document it; the success with which it spatializes time and abstract thought; and the degree to which it is able to enlist the detached-but-involved interest of the eavesdropper and the voyeur. (pp. 2-3)
Antonioni has always avoided a self-conscious display of his mastery of the medium, but in Blow-Up he enters a new dimension. By transforming Cortazar's amateur photographer into a professional one, a would-be transcriber of life as well as an artificer of fashion, he makes the aesthetics of documentary filmmaking itself one of the key themes of the film. Whether the photographer's camera has created, distorted, or merely recorded reality becomes a question of technique as well as one of psychology and epistemology.
[The] second keystone of cinematic art [is] the way in which the film medium best reveals time and emotion through the dynamics of space-play…. [Drama] for the film medium meant movement—not movement bound by the exigencies of limited...
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John Francis Lane
[Antonioni] doesn't try to push any political message [in Chung Kwo]—and indeed it seems a pity that in Shanghai for example we get a tourist view of the city looking much as one has always seen it, even if the Red Light district shines with a different kind of red today, rather than any glimpse into what happened during the Cultural Revolution. When a group of peasants take their 'elevenses' and sit round the table to discuss a point in Mao's Thought that has to do with their work, we are not told in the commentary what they are saying. But Antonioni leaves one to draw one's own conclusions: indeed, one can see from the faces that they are intensely concerned with what they are discussing and that it is important to them.
At other times, the Italian commentary … will intellectualise, as when during a visit to the Great Wall (a Sunday excursion for the Chinese family) it quotes Brecht, reminding us that great monuments were not built 'by' emperors or kings but 'by' the slaves who often sacrificed their lives. Antonioni takes a political attitude more subtly in showing us the happiness on the faces of the Chinese people….
[Chung Kwo] is a notable achievement as a documentary. But I suspect that it will be remembered not so much for what it shows us about China …, but for what it could represent as a personal experience to an artist such as Antonioni, finally exploring a country where there...
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Chung Kuo, in many ways a reaction to [the interiority of Antonioni's previous films], presents a surface view of people and settings. Aside from a couple of references to Marco Polo, there is no awareness of history and nowhere does Antonioni attempt any sort of analysis of, say, the meaning of the cultural revolution. We are left with the material gathered by the camera—bland figures in an unspectacular landscape. We see a society without hunger, cities without anxiety, people without poverty or pain…. [Antonioni] resists the idea of examining the inevitable cultural paradoxes—there are no clips from Sternberg movies of the 1930s to stress the incongruity of Mao's China and our imaginations, coloured by memories of Marlene Dietrich as Shanghai Lily. Antonioni presents his material in long, uninterrupted sequences without humorous or explanatory detail so that we are driven to reach our own conclusions about the significance of, say, these Chinese sipping tea or simply wandering around amid the relics of an imperial past. The tension comes from the relation of camera and subject. Though we never see Antonioni or his crew at work, the reactions of the Chinese make us continually aware of the camera. The citizens filmed in a Peking square stare back at Antonioni as intently as he examines them. The most remarkable sequence in the whole film comes when a visit is made to a town far off the beaten track which at first seems deserted (echoes of...
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It was possible for people who got caught in the Mod alienation and the mystery of Blow-Up to ignore or misunderstand Antonioni's moralism. In Zabriskie Point, it saps his style. He has rigged an America that is nothing but a justification for violent destruction, and the only distraction—love in the desert sands—is inane. It is a very odd sensation to watch a message movie by a famous artist telling us what is wrong with America while showing us something both naïve and decrepit; if it weren't for this peculiar sense of dislocation and the embarrassment one feels for Antonioni, Zabriskie Point would be just one more "irreverent" pandering-to-youth movie, and (except photographically) worse than most.
But the dislocation is crucial: Zabriskie Point is a disaster, but, as one might guess, Antonioni does not make an ordinary sort of disaster. This is a huge, jerry-built, crumbling ruin of a movie. At the opening, he tries briefly to capture the ambience of revolutionary youth, but he soon returns to his own kind of apparently aimless scenes in his own kind of barren landscape…. It's as if he were baffled by America and it all got away from him, and so he, like other filmmakers, picked up the youth mythology so popular in the mass media; but he uses it as a rigid, schematic political point of view, and it doesn't fit his deliberately open-ended, sprawling style. (p. 114)
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Antonioni is certainly due recognition as a master film-maker, but in the case of The Passenger, it is misplaced and tends to ignore the weaknesses of a work that exhibits an uneasy blend of commercialism and art, ultimately satisfying the demands of neither….
The Passenger nevertheless remains, if only in part, a meditative exercise that deliberately avoids the mechanics of suspense so masterfully deployed in Blow Up. [Claire] Peploe's original story, entitled Fatal Exit, resembles the early stories of Sartre and Camus that utilize melodramatic fiction to convey existential concepts. Its closest filmic counterpart is perhaps in Godard and Truffaut, who successfully infused their own personal visions and cinematic vitality into the thriller format with A Bout de souffle and Tirez sur le pianiste. Antonioni, on the other hand, has never demonstrated any genuine interest in this sort of material. Even in Blow Up, where the "who-done-it?" framework seems most relevant, our attention is constantly deflected toward the values implicit in the photographer's behavior and his problem of grasping an objective view of reality. Here, the conventional suspense elements are perfectly in accord with Antonioni's subject and method, but in The Passenger this is not always the case….
Rather than produce a fast-paced thriller with existential undertones, Antonioni gives the...
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If vacuity had any weight, you could kill an ox by dropping on it Michelangelo Antonioni's latest film, The Passenger. Emptiness is everywhere: in landscapes and townscapes, churches and hotel rooms, and most of all in the script. Never was dialogue more portentously vacuous, plot more rudimentary yet preposterous, action more haphazard and spasmodic, characterization more tenuous and uninvolving, film making more devoid of all but postures and pretensions. In his great films (L'Avventura, The Eclipse), Antonioni managed to show real people gnawed on by aimlessness, boredom, self-hate, against backgrounds of gorgeous isolation or bustling indifference. They were people whose words and gestures we recognized, whose obsessions or despair we could understand, especially as they were surrounded by vistas or artifacts that objectified their malaise.
In The Passenger, however, everything must be taken on the say-so of the film makers, on the slender evidence of a pained expression or a painfully written line or two. (p. 16)
The symbolic superstructure had better rest on a little basic believability before reaching for the higher metaphysics; but The Passenger is using its pseudo-Hitchcockian framework without any of Hitchcock's ability to couch his machinations in ostensible reality….
Motivation is as scant as probability. One quasi-stenographic scene is supposed to convey...
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Zabriskie Point is the most intricate of all [Antonioni's] films to date. If there is a political point to be dredged from the student phase at the beginning, it is incidental to the major theme of individuality at bay. Both Mark and Daria are opposed to the regimented society that hems them in. He lunges out against it with the clumsiness of the proverbial bull in a china shop, while she is comparatively adjusted and cool….
[The] visual stress in the opening phase of the film, set in Los Angeles, implies a brain-washed society. And this is echoed in the ideas of Daria's current employer, the property developer Mr Allen…. What he had in mind is an environment for a mindless community, seemingly offered a carefree holiday-orientated existence, but in conditions so thoroughly preordained as to obliterate the need to think. (p. 33)
[Our] dislike of the conformity that Mr Allen represents, albeit with benignity, is channelled through our sympathy for Daria's calm and reasoning attitude to life. This girl is no sluggard. She isn't keen on work, yet she does it—'for the bread'—and if her emotional involvements are apt to be thin, we are shown in the key sequence at Death Valley that she can share with Mark an impulse which is both sexual and spiritual. Their time together on the sun-parched lake bed is indeed a time of love. And the most essential of the intermingled themes in Zabriskie Point is the...
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Bernard F. Dick
Superficially, The Passenger is an assumed-identity film that observes the conventions of the genre as if they were rubrics for an ancient liturgy. The genre works according to a formula that admits of some variation depending on whether the masquerade is a comic ruse (Wilder's The Major and the Minor and Some Like It Hot), a means of saving face (Capra's Lady for a Day), or a matter of survival (Paul Henreid's Dead Ringer). In its more serious form, the assumed identity film has the following features: (1) the masquerade ends in failure, often in death; (2) the pretender becomes a fugitive from society, forsaking even his wife and friends; (3) if he takes on the identity of someone with underworld connections, he will run afoul of the syndicate because of his inability to deliver what it expects of him; (4) the pretender then becomes a man on the run, and his odyssey will, for the moment, transform the film into a road movie with its own conventions including the travelling companion with whom the fugitive has a short-lived but blissful affair, and the fortuitous event (e.g., car trouble) that brings the journey to a close; (5) the key figures in the deception assemble in the same place for the dénouement.
What distinguishes The Passenger from other films of this type is Antonioni's approach to the genre. In one sense, it is impossible to take the film literally because Jack Nicholson does...
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[Il Mistero di Oberwald] begins like a horror extravaganza, with Gothic-lettered credits leaping out from a blood-red mountain-scape. Soon Antonioni turns all the notorious vices of video—the soft definition, the shimmer of parallel lines, the tendency of colors to trail—into expressionist virtues. Cocteau's talky period piece [L'Aigle a deux têtes, on which the film is based], about a widowed queen … and the young rebel with whom she falls in love, becomes a playground for a ghostly, ectoplasmic dance. Antonioni washes color in and out to match mood or character, and he deploys video's supreme facility for trick photography to riveting trompe l'oeil effect. The result, instead of apologizing for video, exults in it, and some of the images—the blood-red prelude, a yellow cornfield as biliously beautiful as a van Gogh—remind one that Antonioni can be the cinema's boldest painter. (p. 18)
Harlan Kennedy, "Venice: From 'Basta' to Bravo," in American Film (reprinted with permission from the January-February issue of American Film magazine; © 1981, The American Film Institute, J. F. Kennedy Center, Washington, DC 20566), Vol. VI, No. 4, January-February, 1981, pp. 18-21.∗
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