Talking about Antonioni

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By AFRANIO CATANI*

Commentary on some aspects of the filmography of Michelangelo Antonioni, the great honored at the 47tha. São Paulo International Film Festival

“Michelangelo Antonioni is a rare filmmaker, who sought and managed to explore with the camera not only tangible reality, but also that of imagination, dreams, everything that we cannot see, except in the cinema” (Inácio Araujo, 2023)

1.

I imagine there isn't a film critic who hasn't written something about Michelangelo Antonioni, the great man honored at the 47tha. São Paulo International Film Festival. Myself, with my ups and downs, only in the earth is round, I wrote two comments, in November 2019 and in March 2021.[1]

The public had the great opportunity to see/review, among others, At night (1961) The Eclipse (1962) The Red Desert (1964) Blow-Up: After That Kiss (1966) The passenger (Profession: Reporter) (1975) Michelangelo's Gaze (2004), as well as some of his short films.

I'm not going to do much analysis here of Antonioni's work, made up of 34 films, including features and shorts. I will just highlight some peculiarities of his fruitful work.

Regarding Michelangelo Antonioni, Inácio Araujo writes that “to say that he is a filmmaker of incommunicability, of boredom, of nothingness, of bourgeois emptiness, does not explain much about the filmmaker's relationship with cinema and the images he produces, Worse, they serve to make the eager spectator immediately classify him as boring or pedantic. It’s not quite like that (…) Antonioni will search the meaning of the word ‘reality’ and, not infrequently, he will question it.”

Inácio Araujo cites an evident example of such a statement, in Blow-Up: After That Kiss. The photo taken by the photographer reveals and hides at the same time what worries him. What did he photograph, when the “real” is apparently no longer visible? “A 'real' scene or just your imagination? Because, for Antonioni, there is in reality something that cinema does not capture, which is the imagination. Or another: perhaps the real is composed of men and objects, but also of their dreams, the imaginary and what it mobilizes”.

Em The Red Desert We don't know exactly what evil affects Giuliana, played by Monica Vitti, actress in five of the director's films. In that same film, reminiscent of Seymour Chatman and Paul Duncan, Giuliana and Conrado (Richard Harris) hold a sheet of newspaper blown by the wind and examine it. For them, “the meaning of this sequence is that the viewer can create their own meaning, in the same way that the characters will create theirs. This is what Michelangelo Antonioni’s contribution to cinema consists of (…), in finding images in which each viewer can find their own meaning.”

The film's title itself is more suggestive than descriptive, according to Cássio Starling Carlos, since the action does not take place in the desert, “but the desolation of the landscape and the protagonist's state of mind suggest this space. The color red was interpreted as a metaphor for the erotic search with which one intends to fill the existential void.”

Michelangelo Antonioni explained in an interview the reason why he chose the title of The Eclipse for the film starring Monica Vitti and Alain Delon, in which he examines the urban environment and its impact on its inhabitants: “I was in Florence to film an eclipse of the sun. Silence, different from all other silences, earthly light and then darkness, total immobility. During the eclipse you probably even stop your feelings, I thought. Somehow, this feeling was born The Eclipse.” (Chatman and Duncan). Well, but in the film there is no eclipse, with the title acquiring a symbolic value, evoking the sensation of disruption of the usual emotional life in the face of the threatening arrival of the atomic age.

According to several critics, The adventure (1960) At night (1961) and The Eclipse (1962) make up the so-called “trilogy of incommunicability”. Some expand to a tetralogy, including The Red Desert (1964) – see, for example, the considerations of Cássio Starling Carlos, for whom “the set of titles mixes themes such as loving anguish, the neurosis of married life and the mismatch between material success and subjective frustration with a way of narrating that breaks with conventions.”

After this phase, Cássio Starling Carlos recalls that Antonioni, from 1966 to 1975, filmed successively in London (Blow-Up), in the United States (Zabriskie Point, 1970), in Maoist China (China, 1972) and in Spain (Profession Reporter). This set of films “prolongs the concept of indeterminacy, breaks the belief in identity and points out the weaknesses of man forged in the political beliefs of consumerism and communism”.

In 1980 he directed The Oberwald Mystery, adapted by Jean Cocteau (1889-1963), making use of the technological innovations that emerged at the time. This production of Italian Radio Television (RAI), with Monica Vitti in the main role, is filmed on video “To explore the expressive possibilities of electronic support, manipulating colors to distort the image according to the emotional tone of the characters” (Carlos, 2011).

Dates from 1982 Identification of a Woman, which tells the story of a filmmaker obsessed with the ghost of creation, in which he searches for an actress for his next film and a companion, failing in both endeavors. Afterwards, he made several short films and some episodes and, with the help of Wim Wenders, directed the feature film beyond the clouds (1995). He said goodbye to fiction in 2004, with an episode of the film Eros. It is worth mentioning that in 1986 Antonioni suffered a heart attack that left him with part of his body paralyzed and his speech impaired.

In that same 2004, with a duration of 15 minutes, the documentary The Look of Michelangelo. This is the visit of another Michelangelo, Antonioni, to the basilica of San Pedro in Vincoli, where the restored tomb of Julius II is located, the work of Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564) – Ignatius Araujo wrote that the Michelangelo born in Ferrara in 1912 is the modern Michelangelo, fragile, small, staggering, in front of the monumental work of the Renaissance man, the sculpture of Moses. “Michelangelo, the filmmaker, contemplates Michelangelo, the sculptor, who contemplates Moses. One does not exist without the other. The fragile Antonioni who visits the church (…) where the statue is located confronts the solidity of the marble and, at the same time, the strength of Moses' gaze. One follows the other, mysteriously. And even if Antonioni dies, as he did three years after making this little film, the imaginary encounter will be recorded on film, aspiring to eternity as much as Michelangelo's gaze on Moses' gaze.”

2.

Even when he gets his hand wrong, things end up right in Antonioni's films: he managed to present a convincing Rod Taylor in Zabriskie Point – Rod Taylor had worked on The birds (1963), by Alfred Hitchcock – and, on The Red Desert, declared a few years later that at the time of filming “the Italian actors I wanted were either not free, or they asked for a lot of money or they were not well-known enough. Richard Harris wasn't the actor I needed, but not because he was foreign. I chose him and it was my mistake. The voice I put on Harris' character, whose voice was sweet and unstressed, suited the role better, which required a strong voice.”

Over the almost 50 years he worked as a director, Antonioni had many collaborators who remained faithful in the fields of scripts, photography and editing. As far as the cast is concerned, however, with the exception of Monica Vitti, who acted in The adventure, At night, The Eclipse, The Red Desert e The Oberwald Mystery; by Lucia Bosé, actress in Chronicle of a Love (1950) and The Lady Without Camellias (1953); by Jeanne Moreau and Marcello Mastroianni (they worked in At night e beyond the clouds), the constellation of actresses and actors who have appeared in their films in just one opportunity is vast – such as Massimo Girotti, Franco Fabrizi, Alida Valli, Lea Massari, Alain Delon, Francisco Rabal, Vanessa Redgrave, Sarah Miles, Jane Birkin, Verushka , Richard Harris, Jack Nicholson, Maria Schneider, John Malkovich, Sophie Marceau, Fanny Ardant, Jean Renno, Vincent Perez, Irène Jacob…

When it comes to scripts, Tonino Guerra (1920-2012), a former primary school teacher who was imprisoned in a concentration camp during the Second World War, was Antonioni's greatest partner: he scripted A Adventure, At night, The Eclipse, The Red Desert, Blow-Up, Zabriskie Point, The Oberwald Mystery, Identification of a Woman, Beyond the Clouds and “The dangerous thread of things”, episode of Eros (2004). Tonino Guerra also wrote for Vittorio De Sica, Mario Monicelli, Elio Petri, Federico Fellini, Paolo and Vittorio Taviani, Andrej Tarkovskij, Theodor Angelopoulos. However, it should be noted that Antonioni is the sole author of the scripts for his short films and some episodes he directed, as well as co-writer of all his feature films. In the book The Dangerous Thread of Things and Other Stories He revealed himself to be a voracious reader and defined himself, with false modesty, as “a director who writes, not a writer”.

Carlo Ponti (1912-2007), in turn, was the producer of three of his fundamental films: Blow-Up, Zabriskie Point e Profession Reporter.

Gianni di Venanzo (1920-1966) was the photographer of “Suicide Attempt”, a 20-minute episode of the film Love in the City (1953) The friends (1955) The Scream (1957) At night e O Eclipse. He was the only Italian cinematographer to have received the Nastro d'Argento five times, an award given every year since 1946 (currently covering more than two and a half dozen categories), for cinematographic performances and production, awarded by the National Union of Cinematographers. Italian Cinema Journalists. Gianni di Venanzo, who died prematurely, was awarded for The Scream, I Magliari (Francesco Rosi, 1959), O Bandit Giuliano (Rosi, 1962), 8 ½ (Federico Fellini, 1963) and Juliet of the Spirits (Fellini, 1965).

Carlo di Palma (1925-2004) began his career as a cameraman and camera assistant in the 1940s, in films that renewed Italian cinema, such as Obsession (1943), Luchino Visconti's debut as director, and bicycle thieves (1948), by Vittorio De Sica.

He worked with Pietro Germi on Divorce the Italian way (1961). “Master status came when he took on the complex task of projecting Antonioni's intellectualism in 'technicolor' into the director's first color film, The Red Desert” (Pedro Maciel Guimarães). Then he did Blow-Up e Identification of a Woman, as well as three other episodes that Antonioni directed. Guimarães also highlights his remarkable collaboration with Woody Allen, for whom he photographed 11 films between 1986 and 1997.

Enzo Serafin (1912-1995) photographed three Antonioni tapes: Chronicle of a Love, The Vanquished (1952) The Lady Without Camellias, in addition to having worked with Roberto Rossellini, Ricardo gascó, Luigi Zampa and Alfredo Guarini, among others.

Alfio Contini (1927-2020) photographed Zabriskie Point e beyond the clouds, while Luciano Tivoli (1936), also with a vast career, was responsible for China, Profession Reporter e The Oberwald Mystery. Aldo Scavarda (1923) was the photographer of The adventure.

Antonioni was the editor of several of his short films, having been co-editor of Zabriskie Point, Profession Reporter, The Oberwald Mystery e beyond the clouds – the co-assembler of Zabriskie, Profession Reporter e China was Franco Arcalli (1929-1978). It should be noted that Franco Arcalli set up The Conformist (1970) and Last Tango in Paris (1972), both by Bernardo Bertolucci, and The Night Porter (1974), by Liliana Cavani. With the death of his collaborator, victim of cancer, at the age of 48, Antonioni decided to set up, alone, Identification of a woman.

Eraldo da Roma (1930-1957), who also worked with Rossellini and De Sica, edited eight features and two episodes for Antonioni: The Vanquished, The Lady Without camellias, The friends, O Grito, The adventure, At night, The Eclipse e The Red Desert. Finally, Claudio di Marco (1953) also edited one of the episodes of beyond the clouds, the episode “the dangerous thread of things” and the shorts Neto, Mandorli, Vulcano, Stromboli, Carnevalli (1992), about the well-known Italian islands, and Sicilia (1998)

3.

Michelangelo Antonioni worked until the end of his days. After the heart attack he suffered in 1985, which left the right part of his body paralyzed and practically deprived him of speech, he learned to draw with his left hand and, according to Wim Wenders, pronounced a dozen basic words in Italian, such as “si, No., Hello, doppo, via, outside, future, andiamo, wine, eat”. But she was at the height of her mental capabilities. The fact is that Michelangelo Antonioni, after 1985, still directed four shorts, two episodes and, with Wim Wenders, the full-length episode beyond the clouds, having been the co-editor of three of them.

Another activity he devoted himself to intensely was painting. Michelangelo Antonioni wrote that a curious aspect of his pictorial experience is that, “when I paint, I don’t feel like a painter.” He said that since he was little he painted, especially faces: those of his mother and father, “or that of Greta Garbo (…) A few years ago I painted other faces, of unknown and imaginary friends. I cut one of these paintings into little pieces and then rebuilt it. The result was a mountain, and that's how I started. Since then I let myself be carried away by enthusiasm. I experienced a great sense of freedom and relief when I stopped trying to be inspired by problems or ideas when approaching a painting. I thought it would never end. The joy of working, of tranquility or balance, as Gide defined it” (Chatman and Duncan).

Michelangelo Antonioni painted dozens (or hundreds?) of works entitled “The Enchanted Mountains”, whose technical process consists of enlargement – ​​and enlargement “reveals in detail the invisible elements of the original image. This is a similar process to that discussed Blow-Up. Furthermore, this process results in a very interesting experience for me as a director, as I had never imagined that I would be part of the art world, because I could not say what form of art I could attribute to these objects” (Chatman and Duncan).

I cannot fail to mention that the Instituto Italiana de Cultura in São Paulo is exhibiting, from 23.10 to 28.11.2023, an exhibition of drawings by Antonioni. The event “Michelangelo Antonioni – small paper drawings” brings together 24 paintings made by him “and marked by an intense and abstract color that contrasts with the gray tones characteristic of the capital of São Paulo.[2]

One of these images gave rise to the official poster for the São Paulo Exhibition in 2023. According to Enrica Antonioni, his widow, the drawings represent the “Last Antonioni”. She clarifies that “in the last seven years of his life, he expressed himself through these paintings, these colors. He had a desire and an urgency to communicate” (Idem).

*Afranio Catani is a retired senior professor at the Faculty of Education at USP. He is currently a visiting professor at the Faculty of Education at UERJ, Duque de Caxias campus..

References


Cassio Starling Carlos. Michelangelo Antonioni: The Red Desert. São Paulo: Folha Cine European Collection, vol. 12, 2011.

Inácio Araujo. Homage to Antonioni at the Exhibition rescues the origins of modern cinema. Folha de S. Paul, “Illustrated at the São Paulo Exhibition”, p. C8, 25/10/2023.

Michelangelo Antonioni. The Dangerous Thread of Things and Other Stories. Rio de Janeiro: New Frontier, 1991.

Pedro Maciel Guimarães. Michelangelo Antonioni. The Red Desert. São Paulo: Folha Cine European Collection, vol. 12, 2011.

Seymour Chatman; Paul Duncan (Ed.). Michelangelo Antonioni: The investigation. Madrid: Taschen, 2004.

Notes


[1] See Afrânio Catani. “Antonioni and the dangerous edge of things”. The Earth Is Round, 30/11/2019; Afrânio Catani. “Antonioni in the Amazon”. The Earth Is Round, 21/03/2021.

[2] São Paulo hosts an exhibition of drawings by Michelangelo Antonioniwww.terra.com-br.cdn.ampproject.org>


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