Tag Archives: Michelangelo Antonioni

XL Popcorn – Zabriskie Point

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 696/1007Title: Zabriskie Point
Director: Michelangelo Antonioni
Year: 1970
Country: USA

Last week I proposed that I had a general problem with cop movies from the 1970s. This week I think I need to add another thing to the list of ‘types of films that just don’t click with me’ – counterculture films of the late 1960s-early 1970s. I guess it’s a mixture of two things:

  1. This is the point where a lot of American films are being made that incorporate elements of the French New Wave style
  2. Finding a lot of the members of this counter-culture generation (when depicted in film) to be rather vapid and/or pleased with themselves.

What also did not help is that I went into Zabriskie Point expecting something with a bit more bite. Something that, given the then contemporary arrest of Charles Manson and the immediate ramifications, would actually help to explore the darker and cult-like side of certain elements of this counter-culture. Nope, it’s a fairly silly film.

This is such a shame as I know what Michelangelo Antonioni can do in his native Italy from films like L’avventuraThe only thing that remains of these Italian works in Zabriskie Point is Antonioni’s eye. Seriously, the cinematography in this film is outstanding and some set pieces (like the house explosion at the film’s conclusion) are really well done.

However, the script, acting and the overall plot just does not work. Everything feels so incredibly self-indulgent and ignorant that it is hard for me to find a way to relate to the major characters. Also, there is a subplot involving some desert land being sold for properties… but I don’t know what the point of it was. Then again, I’m not entire sure what the point of the whole film was.

XL Popcorn – L’Eclisse

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 621/1007
Title: L’Eclisse
Director: Michelangelo Antonioni
Year: 1962
Country: Italy

So it turns out that between L’Eclisse and L’Avventura I have watched the first and last films of a loose trilogy of films by Michelangelo Antonioni. The middle film (La Notte) is also on the 1001 film list. I guess that since this is a loose trilogy my watching these films out of order won’t matter too much, but I won’t know until I get to that film in 12-18 months.

Anyway, enough pride wound licking.

L’Eclisse is the fourth out of six Michelangelo Antonioni films that I have seen for the 1001 list (others being L’Avventura, Il Deserto Rosso and Blow-Up) and the third of them I have seen starring Monica Vitti. As a muse I cannot fault Vitti’s work with Antonioni and I think this could be the best I have seen her – or at least this is her at her most sensual.

I’m not entire sure whether going through the plot of L’Eclisse would help to properly talk about it. It’s a film that is very much steeped in an atmosphere of ennui (which is kicked off by Vitti’s character breaking up with her fiance) and is able to generate a number of interesting contrasts.

For many people there is the elephant in the room (literally, if you consider that tacky side table) of the racist/colonialist scene as Vittoria (Vitti) visits a friend of hers. Some people are so turned off by this scene that they deride Antonioni for its inclusion… and I would normally feel the same if it wasn’t for how it fit into the rest of the film.

Firstly, this friend (who dances in a form of black face and talks about native Kenyans as being monkeys who have recently lost their tails) is chastised openly for her behaviour. It’s not done by Vittoria, but by another friend of hers. Similarly everything about this apartment is tacky, so I would argue that this is more of a send up than anything.

Similarly, this scene where she calls native Kenyans savage is sandwiched between two scenes in a stock exchange. The way that Antonioni shoots these well-to-do white people snarling and yelling serves as an amazing contrast to her comments. For all the education and the money these are people who are still full of greed and viciousness. So yes, that makes for an interesting contrast.

Talking of contrasts, I need to speak a little about the final 7-8 minutes. The background to this scene is that our two characters (Vitti and Alain Delon) have just spent some passionate time together and made plans to meet each other later. We then just spend time watching various people going about their general business in between shots of the rather stark facist architecture and, for some reason, some ants scurrying up a tree.

The thing is… they don’t meet again. It’s a weird ending as you feel both like this was the perfect conclusion (as they never really found a way to communicate) and also a sad conclusion (as they both need happiness). So yes, between the ants and the lack of meeting this was an interesting ending to an interesting film.


I finish this with a general word about my continued crush on 1960s Alain Delon. If possible he may be more attractive here as the prickly stockbroker than in either The Leopard or Le Samouraï. Hopefully I haven’t used up all the Delon films as that would be a shame.



XL Popcorn – Il Deserto Rosso

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 579/1007
Title: Red Desert (Il Deserto Rosso)
Director: Michelangelo Antonioni
Year: 1964
Country: Italy

“One mystery is okay, but two is too many”. Sometimes you hear or read something in a movie that completely crystallises a character and their journey. This quote comes from a story that Giuliana (Monica Vitti) tells her son as he pretends to have become recently paralysed. In the story she tells of a girl on an isolated cove, which is an interesting parallel to Guiliana’s own isolation from the rest of the world. She uses this story as a way to explain (to the best of her abilities) how she has been feeling to her young son – only to find this was a cruel trick he has played on her which only deepens her feelings of isolation. It is this feeling of crippling isolation/detachment which permeates the brutal industrial landscapes of Il Deserto Rosso. 

By setting his first colour film in an industrial complex Michelangelo Antonioni must have had an uphill climb in getting that ‘painted on canvas’ look he was trying to achieve. I can only imagine how much easier this would have been if he had chosen to shoot Sicily in colour for L’Avventura

Still when you watch this you cannot fault Antonioni for what he tried to achieve. The greyness of the surroundings truly helps to emphasise the accents of red, blue and yellow. In the final shot it is the vivid yellow of the smoke that truly hits you thanks to the grim surroundings. He tried to make industry beautiful… and I would not agree with that. However, he somehow used it as a contrast to make the commonplace (and sometimes even the toxic) seem beautiful, which is a big win there.

Another departure from Antonioni is the sound design of the film – made up of industrial sounds by a foley artist and electronic noises. The way that they mix (usually when Guiliana is approaching her breaking point) is unsettling. It is hard to describe why it works so well (mainly because my vocabulary caps out with the word discordant), but this is something you will have to watch and see for yourself.

It all adds up to an interesting film about a woman finding it hard to cope with life. She tries to find meaning in friends, her son and a sexual affair with her husbands co-worker… but everything just ends up making her feel useless, unneeded and alone. It’s a miracle of acting from Monica Vitti that this character is not insufferable.

As someone who has been through an awful period of depression there is a lot of her actions that I could relate to (not the affair… love you hub) and unlike other actors she never overdoes it. Sure there are outbursts, as there are bound to be, but the entire performance is grounded in reality.

Like with a lot of cinema from the continent this is more a slice of life film as no real conclusion is reached. She is still emotionally isolated and her husband is likely off to Patagonia for a year leaving her behind with her young (arsehole) son. Will she survive? Other than a clue from an interaction with her son about how birds learn to avoid the toxic smoke of the factories we don’t know. I hope that the final scene is some sort of hopeful metaphor.

XL Popcorn – A Chinese Ghost Story / L’Avventura

So continueth the dictated film reviews! Damn these wrists!

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Title: A Chinese Ghost Story (Sien nui yau wan)
Director: Siu-Tung Ching
Year: 1987
Country: Hong Kong

It has been nearly a year since I last saw Leslie Cheung in the 1993 film Farewell My Conubine where he played the role of a gay Chinese opera actor. He plays a rather different character in A Chinese Ghost Story, for one thing he is a straight debt collector who has fallen in love with a ghost.

This film is very much a horror film in the same way that Evil Dead II is a horror movie i.e. lighthearted horror which is to entertain and not to scare. Not what I expected to be honest as with a title like A Chinese Ghost Story I was going for the assumption that it would be more like Ringu than Kung Fu Hustle.

Once I had adjusted by expectations I really started to enjoy this blend of ghosts, comedy and wuxia. Even when it starts to get a little bit Power Rangers towards the end… when a sword was summoned from a felled tree using sanskrit. It’s amazing how in this universe at the same sanskrit phrase had so many uses. I mean, it can conjure fireballs, summon swords, enchant arrows and make invisible things visible.

Nowadays some of these effects appear a bit cheesy and low budget. However, it adds to the charm. It would be boring if the desiccated bodies did not move jerkily as squeak like mice.

I’m not entirely sure how they managed to squeeze out two sequels from this original film and I’m unlikely to get around to watching them as I still have over 500 films to see on this 1001 list. Oh and the anime and the TV shows and the books and the albums and the comics.

Title: L’Avventura
Director: Michelangelo Antonioni
Year: 1960
Country: Italy

When L’Avventura had its first showing at the Cannes film festival the audience booed causing the director and leading lady to make a swift exit. Now, an animated audience at a film festival is common. Especially at Cannes where it really can be trial by fire. This did not occur after the second screening. I mention this not just because I find it interesting, but because booing apparently happened fairly often when people were watching this film.

Apparently this reaction was due to the audience starting to get a bit miffed during some of the longer scenes without dialogue. Having sat through Jeanne Dielman I have no qualms with scenes without dialogue. In fact, I feel that there are times when a skilled director and actors are able to tell us more with silence than with words. That is the case with this film.

I’m not entirely sure why this film has the title of The Adventure. Unless the director is going for something rather clichéd like “life as an adventure”, which I sincerely hope not. The crux of this film is that you see a woman’s best friend and fiancé deal with the fact that she has gone missing. Now, I did not think much of this woman as she was a bit of a pain. Then again no one deserves to go missing in the Mediterranean the way she did.

What she leaves behind is rather interesting. For someone who would have appeared to be loved no one is actually trying that hard to look for her. Sure, her fiancé makes a bit of an effort but he very quickly makes a move with her best friend Claudia. Claudia resists for a few days and then is madly in love with him.

What is interesting about everyone is that they lack substance. This is not a potshot at the writing as this is how they are. These are spoiled rich Italian socialites and they quickly move on to the next party despite the fact one of the number has presumably drowned.

I think I really enjoyed this film. Especially the cinematography which was, obviously, aided by some beautiful Sicilian scenery. Big praise also has to go to Monica Vitti for a remarkably human portrayal of a woman undergoing internal conflict. She must have lived an breathed the role to be so spot on.

I found out that this is the first in a trilogy that all appear on the 1001 list. I’m curious how the theme progresses.

Progress: 486/1007