Friday, August 29, 2014

Dear Antonioni (1997)

Director: Gianni Massironi
Features: Michelangelo Antonioni, Chrsitine Boisson, Alain Cunny, David Hemmings, Monica Vitti

It is a TV documentary which was made at around the time of Antonioni's comeback with 'Beyond the Clouds' after taking a long hiatus post a stroke which left him partly paralyzed and unable to speak in 1985. It takes a look at his entire filmography  up to that point with some of the artists he worked with reading extract's from a letter that was sent to Antonioni by some philosopher I think. It also has archival footage of various interviews given by Antonioni.

Antonioni is not a director who gets associated with the neo-realist movement in Italian cinema. He had made a short documentary in 1943 called Gente del Po (People of the Po valley), which was filmed in 1943 when Italy was still under fascism and got released in 1947. It is cited as the start of neo-realist movement even though Antonioni didn't direct any feature films in that particular genre. I haven't seen any of his films made before 1960 even though 'Cronaca di un amore ' and 'Il Grido ' have been on my watch-list for sometime.

Antonioni is most famous for the films he made in 1960s starting with the thematic Trilogy of L'Avventura, La Notte and L'Eclisse all of which I have seen. All of them follows characters who belongs to the bourgeoisie class into which Antonioni was also born into. Loneliness, unhappiness, purposelessness, urban alienation are the themes that are common in all the films of Antonioni that I have seen. One might presume that if he is handling the same things in all his films it might feel repetitive and boring. That is not the case since the way he presents them are very different and the themes he handle are universal in nature but presented always in a subtle way. In the documentary his film making is compared with that of Hitchcock who always keep the audience guessing by hiding things for a significant duration his films but everything gets tied off nicely by the time closing credits roll. Antonioni does the opposite by hiding nothing but everything remains open-ended as we have to gleam meanings from the images that he conjures up and it is no surprise that Antonioni was also a very good painter. Hitchcock films will give you great thrills when you watch it but Antonioni ones will stay with you even after you leave from the cinemas. Both of these styles have their own merits but as you grow up (age wise as well as cinematic knowledge wise), it is the Antonioni type of films that interests you more. It was interesting to see Hitchcock being describes as a realist filmmaker in the sense that everything is made clear to the audience whereas Antonioni is a modern filmmaker characterized by the open-endedness and ambiguities.

The alienation trilogy was followed up with Red Desert which was his first film in colour and I have not seen it yet. Antonioni signed up with the producer Carlo Ponti to direct three films in English to be released by MGM. It resulted in Blow Up, Zabriskie Point and The Passenger. Jack Nicholson starring 'The Passenger' in which he plays a TV reporter who is running away from his past is my favorite Antonioni film. I found all the six films I have seen of him so far to be great and he is certainly up there very high in my favorite directors list if I were to make one.

The documentary is a great watch for those who are big fans of Michelangelo Antonioni. Might be useless if you are not familiar with his work

Rating: 3.5/5