(directed by Michelangelo Antonioni, 1962)
***** (out of 5)
> I remember being floored by Michelangelo Antonioni films RED DESERT and LA NOTTE (“The Night”) when I first began to study film in high school- and this was the film that bridged the two. In the interim, I have not seen many of his films other than cultural touchstones ZABRISKI POINT (just plain bad), BLOW UP (left me cold) L’AVVENTURA (classic!) and THE PASSENGER (interesting, but obtuse), until my recent viewing of IL GRIDO, which contained enough artistry to rekindle my interest in this Italian master. Good thing. This film as a knockout! By the strange and obtuse ending, I was convinced I was watching one of the great films of its time, though I would be hard-pressed to articulate why.
. Antonioni movies are like that famous Winston Churchill quote about Russia: they are “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma”. I could describe the thin plot, such as it was, but this would not describe the film, because this Italian cinematic magician’s films were not about narrative, but about possibility. On the surface, it tells the story of a radiantly alluring young woman (Antonioni’s leading lady in four excellent films and at the time, the leading lady in his personal life, Monica Vitti) who breaks up with one flame only to fall into an involvement with another man that seems doomed to similar failure. After the breakup, she seeks out her mother to council about it, but her mom is far too preoccupied with her financial dealings to be available for her daughter. She is a stock market speculator, spending her days haunting the crazily chaotic Roman stock exchange, buying and selling stocks. Here, her winsome daughter meets a brash young broker who oozes self-confidence and braggadocio, and gradually falls under his charismatic spell. Then the market crashes, in spectacular fashion, in a fantastically choreographed crowd scene that is just riveting.
. Finally, we get a final coda that says… what? I have some vague impressions, but no clear idea. It’s a lengthy, wordless montage of empty urban landscapes, impersonal buildings, decay and empty streets. Even after reading three essays about it, I still don’t fully get it. (Something about alienation I gather- the empty spaces between people and the chronic loneliness of being a living human being.) Like all his excursions into ambiguousness, it is not about the destination- but the journey, and a fascinating journey it is, impeccably photographed in dramatic black-and-white and crowned by a performance from Monica Vitti that I found simply unforgettable. She was an icon of ravishing beauty in L’AVVENTURA and she is just as riveting to behold here. With a face that was born for the camera, one cannot take one’s eyes off her for a single frame of the film. She is stunning in her fragile vulnerability, and one can certainly see why the great director was so smitten.
. Words to describe this un usual outing simply evade me. Let’s leave it at this: if you are a serious lover of world cinema, you need to make time for all four Antonioni films that showcase this spectacular actress: L’AVVENTURA, RED DESERT, LA NOTTE, AND L’ECLISSE- then see if you can describe the indescribable any better than I seem able to do!
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