Michelangelo Antonioni

Michelangelo Antonioni

The most intellectual of our great directors, Michelangelo Antonioni was born in Ferrara on 29 September 1912. His parents were Elisabetta Roncagli and Ismaele Antonioni. They were both working people but his father got an education through evening classes, thus enabling himself to rise to a position in the bourgeoisie. Michelangelo had working class friends also when he went to university after leaving Technical Institute. The plain-spoken directness of working-class women was the thing he appreciated most. He graduated in economics and commerce at the University of Bologna. He got involved in theatre, staging authors like Ibsen, Chekhov and Pirandello. He became a journalist in the late 1930s, writing first for the Corriere Padano and in 1940 for Cinema magazine in Rome, where he met Cesare Zavattini. He was also at the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia and in 1942 was one of the writers of A Pilot Returns by Roberto Rossellini. He was also an assistant director to Marcel Carné in France for Les visiteurs du soir. His first short film, begun in 1943 and completed after the war, was People of the Po Valley. This short film had a Neorealist slant whereas his first feature, Story of a Love Affair, was already quite divergent. Paola, played by Lucia Bosé, is a poor girl who becomes the wife of a wealthy industrialist but her former lover Giulio (Massimo Girotti), emerges from the past. The two decide to get rid of her husband but he dies in a real incident. Feeling guilty nevertheless, Giulio leaves Paola. The focus is on the superficiality of the bourgeoisie and the spiritual aridity of the characters as the director defines them. After the episodic film The Vanquished, presented at the Venice Film Festival (with Francesco Rosi as assistant director), he filmed The Lady Without Camelias. Again starring Lucia Bosé with Andrea Checchi and Gino Cervi, the story concerns Clara, a shop assistant who is chosen by film executive Gianni for his new project. When the unscrupulous producer Ercole sees that the test screening audience is more interested in the actress than the film, he decides to re-edit the film. Gianni and Clara in the meantime get married and he becomes very jealous and possessive. The film is an incisive portrait of the aridity and cynicism of the film business behind the public facade. Another change in register came in 1955 with The Girl Friends. Here, the sequences are long and the characters' stories are seemingly disconnected from one another. Adapted from Cesare Pavese and starring Eleonora Rossi Drago, Gabriele Ferzetti and Yvonne Furnaux. Clelia returns to Turin after many years and decides to open a fashion house. This is how she meets Rosetta and her friends. Two years later came a great masterpiece with melodramatic overtones, The Cry, with Alida Valli, Steve Cochran and Betsy Blair. This was Antonioni's first film with an international cast (Valli had already filmed abroad in The Third Man with Orson Welles and The Paradine Case by Alfred Hitchcock and starring Gregory Peck), and it won the Jury Prize at Locarno Film Festival. Aldo, a worker, is the father of a girl with Irma, whose husband emigrated a long time ago and has not been heard of since. But at the news of her husband's death she refuses to marry Aldo. Aldo then takes off wandering, in search of the past and other women. But his desperate love for Irma drives him to suicide. 1960 saw the first film of his tetralogy about communication failure. The Adventure was immediately and absurdly intercepted by the censors and confiscated for obscenity for a number of days. A film that marks a turning point, not only for Antonioni, but for Italian and world cinema as well. Set the Aeolian Islands, it tells of the disappearance of Anna and her friend and boyfriend's attempts to find her. A story pared down to the bone, very little dialogue – great, revolutionary cinema. The cast included Lea Massari, Gabriele Ferzetti and Monica Vitti (until then mainly a dubber; she had previously done a few small parts and a film by Mario Amendola). This was followed by La notte and The Eclipse in 1961 and 1962. The former starred Jeanne Moreau and Marcello Mastroianni, with music from Giorgio Gaslini. The Eclipse had Alain Delon teamed with Monica Vitti. Vittoria leaves her architect boyfriend. She meets Piero at the Rome Stock Exchange and they have a brief affair. The film received the Special Jury Prize at the Cannes Festival. The Red Desert, the fourth and final film in the series on failed communication, came two years later. Monica Vitti is again the heroine, this time paired with Richard Harris. Carlo di Palma created a red-hued look, hinting, as the title does, to the mental wilderness that the main character faces after a car accident. 1966 brought the first film of the English language trilogy (one British and two American films), Blow Up. A slick and confident photographer and womaniser, Thomas (based on David Bailey), suddenly gets to know a mysterious woman connected to a crime that would have remained unexplained but for an enlargement of a photo coincidently taken by Thomas. The film however is not a thriller but a kind of microscopic analysis of swinging London in the mid 1960s. The focus shifts to the hippies in Zabriskie Point, which has at least two memorable sequences: the love-in of the nude couples in the desert and an explosion in slow motion to the sound of music by Pink Floyd. Jim Morrison of the Doors had composed 'America' for the film but it was not chosen - a fate shared by Harrison Ford, who was refused an early chance to get a foot in the door of Hollywood cinema. The Passenger, with Maria Schneider and Jack Nicholson, tells the story of a man who swaps identities with someone who has recently died. The photographer character thinks that by assuming the identity of the dead man he can move on from the life he has tired of. After a not very successful release the film remained in the ownership of Nicholson, who for many years refused to allow its distribution in cinemas. When he finally relented, it was clear that its was one of Antonioni's best films. The story was by Clare Peploe, Bernardo Bertolucci's wife. After the digital television experiment of The Oberwald Mystery (by Jean Cocteau) with Monica Vitti and Franco Branciaroli, he chose Tomas Milian for Identification of a Woman. A director is trying to find an idea for his new film and he intends to find it through a woman. This was effectively Antonioni's last film, and it was awarded the 35th anniversary prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 1982. After an illness that left him unable to speak, he directed a film jointly with Wim Wenders, Beyond the Clouds, and an episode of Eros. Thereafter, a few small films that allowed him to rediscover the joy of being on set. He died in Rome on 30 July 2007, almost fatefully, on the same day the great intellectual Swedish director Ingmar Bergman passed away.



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