Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Antonioni x 4

Italian week: 4 - quartet of Antonioni rarities: I VINTI, I TRE VOLTI, THE OBERWALD MYSTERY, BEYOND THE CLOUDS

A man bends over a body in a suburban English park - no it is not BLOW-UP but Antonioni's first foray into filming in England: I VINTI (THE VANQUISHED) in 1952, maybe not released until 1953 and a forgotten film now. Fascinating stuff though, it is a film of 3 stories, set in France, Italy and England - each in their own language, so the new dvd has English subtitles for the French and Italian segments but the English one is in Italian, so one has to choose the original version in English for that!

These tales are about the "burnt-out generation" of juvenile delinquents who were causing concern at the time, with their lack of morals and contempt for society. Antonioni keeps it nicely moving as the bitter playlets play out. A group of bored teenagers in Paris plot to kill a show-off wealthy friend on a trip to the country, so they take a gun with them ... Jean-Pierre Mocky is the unlucky guy and Etchika Choreau (whom I remember from a Tab Hunter film) is the scheming girlfriend playing the boys against each other. The show-off gets killed but he only has paper money to impress the girls .... as the worried parents begin to realise what they are up to. (Mocky directed LES DRAGUEURS (THE YOUNG HAVE NO MORALS) a 1959 favourite, with Anouk Aimee and Belinda Lee, French label).
In Italy wealthy middle-class parents have no idea that their bored son is smuggling cigarettes, but his latest operation goes badly wrong and he callously shoots a policeman dead in order to escape.  He has to make a jump from a bridge which turns out to be a fatal mistake leading to internal injuries as he struggles to get home. He is Franco Interlenghi (who was in Fellini's I VITELLONI) and his girl is Anna Maria Ferrero (who gave up her career when she married Jean Sorel), and his father is veteran Eduardo Ciannelli.

Then in suburban London (filmed around Sutton and Carshalton) an out of work poet who does not want to work and has contempt for people finds a body on the golf links and sells the story to the papers  - but just how well did he know the dead woman? The newspaper hack (reliable Patrick Barr) soon realises that our poet (Peter Reynolds) killed the woman himself  after picking her up at the cinema - she is  venerable English actress Fay Compton.

This has some great shots of London in the 50s - Piccadilly Circus and the Underground station at night including those old ticket machines I remember from the pre-decimal era, and it is fascinating seeing Antonioni's view of '50s London with those interesting locations - just like BLOW-UP has in the '60s; Antonioni got to London before Rene Clement in 1954 with KNAVE OF HEARTS (Gerard Philipe label). I VINTI too surprisingly finishes with a tennis match .... it seems a world away now but the bright shiny world of the Swinging '60s and BLOW-UP was only 14 years later. Those familiar names Giovanni Fusco did the music and Suso Cecchi D'Amico had a hand in the script.

 I TRE VOLTI (THE THREE FACES OF A WOMAN) was Dino De Laurentiis's attempt, in 1965, to make a movie star of Princess Soraya (1932-2001), the ex-Empress of Iran (whom the Shah had to divorce as she could not provide an heir). She may have been fascinating in real life but on screen comes across as a less animated Sophia Loren/Silvana Mangano/Haya Harareet type. Presumably Antonioni and Bolognini signed on to direct episodes for the paychecks, as Soraya is filmed in various situtations with a new look and mood for each one: perhaps they are showing the glossy tedium of a beautiful woman being hounded by the press and attempting to be an actress as we see her being made up, wearing different wigs, acting out situations with Richard Harris (the Bolognini sequence - where Harris looks more animated than in IL DESERTO ROSSO) at the opera, on the beach, in luxury hotels, water skiing, a masked ball in Venice, the Parthenon at dawn, etc.- the high life looks quite empty here. Then Alberto Sordi pops up to little avail.  It must have cost a lot, but did anyone see it?  A lot of it looks like flicking through a '60s glossy fashion magazine, but maybe it set the tone for investigating a fashion photographer's lot in London?
THE OBERWALD MYSTERY, 1980 - great to finally get this on a disk, as I only had a vhs recorded from its one showing on BBC here back in the '80s. One of Antonioni's more obscure works this psychological period piece reunites him and Monica Vitti. Shot on video and based upon the play THE EAGLE HAS TWO HEADS by Jean Cocteau, the film casts Vitti as a queen who squares off against an anarchist poet who has come to her castle to kill her. Due to his remarkable resemblance to the long-dead king, the queen falls in love with the dissident; can they fall in love or end up killing each other? It is an experiement in colour shot on the then new video technology (so it has that grungy vhs look as well as those curious colour combinations) and was presumably meant to be an experimental minor interest work. Also, it is Antonioni's only period film set in some pre-WWI Hapsburg type kingdom - the castle looks the part. Monica looks (and sounds) as marvellous as ever, and there are some lingering close-ups even as they spout those reams of dialogue in those very static set-ups. Possibly only Antonioni or Vitti completists will find it compelling.

BEYOND THE CLOUDS - The British Film Institute Antonioni retrospective in 2005 said about this: "With help from Wim Wenders, Antonioni was able in 1995, despite his infirmity, to direct this series of episodes taken from his early literarly sketches. These are in the nature of fantasies, of achieved or failed seductions, and maybe should have stayed that way. But Antonioni's eye for detail and the play of light and shade is as masterful as ever." John Malkovich is the director whom we see beyond the clouds at the start on a plane, as he considers ideas for his next film. He wanders around Ferrara, and out of season Portofino, as well as Paris and Aix-en-Provence imagining and creating stories about people he sees.
These unfold in a dreamlike state: that "love affair that never existed", the girl who stabbed her father 12 times, couples divorcing and that girl who is going to enter a convent the next day - as a great European cast (Fanny Ardant, Sophie Marceau, Irene Jacob, Ines Sastre, Jean Reno etc) play them out - we even get a minute or two with Marcello Mastroianni and Jeanne Moreau - stars of Antonioni's LA NOTTE in 1961 - commenting on art.
Moreau & Mastroianni re-united
The 50-minute documentary on the making of it has a lovely scene with Marcello and Antonioni in their old age, and also comments by Tonino Guerra (who died this year, RIP label). It is all dreamlike and unfolds at a trance like pace.  There are marvellous landscapes (Portofino and Antonioni's home town Ferrara look ideal), beautiful actresses taking their clothes off, as Antonioni at 83 with Wenders at his side creates a final complex film that leaves one in a tracelike state. Not though as spellbinding as L'AVVENTURA or L'ECLISSE or BLOW-UP or THE PASSENGER - For those not used to Antonioni it may come across like a parody of a European art film. 


  1. ‘Beyond the Clouds’ is simply a feast of beauty yearning for itself while drowning us in the landscape of poetic dreamlike tendrils of visual grace & murmuring sound.

    I care not for critics seeking threads to carefully follow, ruining everything. More Poets making more films like this, please. Hope you enjoyed it Michael.

  2. Thanks Emma, I am posting my review of it today.