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Related Notes: 2004 Views from the Avant-Garde Notes: Michelangelo Eye to Eye and Eros.


IL Grido, 1957
[The Outcry]

ValliA rugged, inexpressive refinery mechanic, Aldo (Steve Cochran), hurries home after being summoned by his married lover, Irma (Alida Valli). Irma has been informed of her husband's death in Australia, and Aldo welcomes the tragic news as a resolution to their seven-year affair. However, Aldo is stunned by Irma's opposition to marriage, and her subsequent admission to another affair. Unable to find compelling words to make her stay, Aldo resorts to physical violence, and irreparably severs their relationship. In retaliation for Irma's betrayal, Aldo leaves his home and employment with their daughter, Rosina (Mirna Girardi), and begins to wander aimlessly. His first impulse is to visit his ex-fiancé, Elvia (Betsy Blair), a sweet, devoted woman who still loves him despite his cruel decision to leave her. Unable to reconcile with his own feelings of abandonment, he turns away from the nurturing, supportive Elvia. After catching a ride in a delivery truck, Aldo and his daughter are brought to an isolated gas station run by a sensual, lonely widow, Virginia (Dorian Gray). When Virginia leaves the station unattended in order to chase after an unpaid bill, Aldo steps in to dispense gasoline. Virginia seizes the opportunity to offer him a job, although her motives are clearly more personal than professional. However, Aldo's unresolved feelings for Irma continue to torment him, and Virginia's generosity and affection prove insufficient as Aldo decides to move on. Eventually, Aldo comes upon an itinerant fishing village and finds companionship with a prostitute named Andreina (Lynn Shaw). But there is little comfort in their meager existence, and as the harsh winter sets, Aldo decides to return home to confront Irma and reclaim the pieces of his shattered life.

Michelangelo Antonioni creates a poignant and haunting story of alienation and psychological torment in Il Grido. As in Agnes Varda's Vagabond, the barren landscape, perennially clad in fog, reflects the isolation of the soul. Note the pervasive sound of machinery throughout the film - speed boats, refinery pumps, diesel engines, construction equipment - providing an artificial distraction to the silence. In essence, the cold, bleak, industrial setting further creates a sense of dehumanization, as Aldo is reduced to vagrancy and inconsolable loneliness. Inevitably, it is Aldo's silence - his inability to articulate his pain - that perpetuates his own inevitable tragedy.

© Acquarello 2000. All rights reserved.

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Il Deserto Rosso, 1964
[Red Desert]

VittiA beautiful and distracted woman named Giuliana (Monica Vitti) wanders aimlessly through the grimy perimeter streets outside a power generation plant amidst the intermittent chaos of a workers' strike, accompanied by her young son Valerio (Valerio Bartoleschi). Observing one of the striking workers eating his lunch, she instinctually begins to feel hungry, approaches him, and offers to buy the half-eaten sandwich from the bewildered stranger. After voraciously finishing her meal in a secluded area, she pays an unexpected visit to her husband Ugo (Carlo Chionetti), the manager of the power generation plant, who is preoccupied with assisting an engineer named Corrado Zeller (Richard Harris) in finding specialized workers for an international industrial project. In Giuliana's absence, Ugo expresses his concern to Corrado of his wife's erratic behavior that seems to have manifested as a result of a car accident. Corrado is captivated by the sensitive and enigmatic Giuliana, and begins to accompany her as she goes through the empty rituals of a "normal" life: planning the interior decoration of an unspecified shop that she has decided to establish in a near desolate street; visiting the wife of a potential employee for Corrado's project; wandering through a power line construction site; meeting Ugo and some friends at a neglected fishing cottage for a meaningless liaison. However, her fleeting connection to the emotionally inscrutable Corrado is soon tested when Giuliana's overwhelming anxiety resurfaces after Valerio feigns a crippling illness during Ugo's absence from home.

Marking Michelangelo Antonioni's entry into color film, Red Desert is a visually dense, metaphoric, and emotionally austere portrait of spiritual desolation, technological disconnection, and environmental malaise. Exploring similar themes of estrangement and ennui as his seminal trilogy of alienation (L'Avventura, La Notte, and L'Eclisse), Antonioni's color palette juxtaposes muted earth tones and bold, artificial (and often primary) colors to reflect the unnaturality and inherent competition between natural order and industrialization in a modern, and increasingly alienated, society: the automated rhythm of toxic, yellow fume emissions from the plant as Giuliana and Valerio pass nearby that bookend the film; the brightly painted, color-coded pipes that populate the interior spaces of the control facility as Giuliana pays a visit to the emotionally distant Ugo; the bright red, high power antennas that visually bisect the landscape during Giuliana and Corrado's walk (note
Theo Angelopoulos' homage to Antonioni through a similarly framed horizon shot of telephone line technicians in The Suspended Step of the Stork). Antonioni further manifests the encroachment and toll of industrialization through disquieting ambient noise (modulated high frequency sounds and monotonous drone), bleak and polluted landscapes (the blackened desolate area where Giuliana consumes her appropriated sandwich and the fishing ban on the waters surrounding the disused shack), and the intrusion of man-made objects into the frame (the repeated image of ships traversing the horizon). Inevitably, the seeming cure to Giuliana's indefinable illness proves to be a resigned acceptance and emotional immunity to the irreconcilable chaos of her dehumanized and alienating environment.

© Acquarello 2003. All rights reserved.

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Blowup, 1966

HemmingsIf the jaded tabloid journalist, Marcello, in Federico Fellini's La Dolce Vita ever found success, he would invariably lead the life of Thomas (David Hemmings) in Michelangelo Antonioni's Blowup. In the hip culture of 1960s London, Thomas is a famous fashion photographer whose disillusionment is reflected in his expressionless, mannequin-like models. His technical directions have no meaning - they only serve as a means to fill the silence. He is constantly surrounded by people - celebrities, groupies, mod scene acquaintances - but is emotionally isolated. He weaves through drug parties and casual sex with the same pervasive mechanical detachment that he shows in his work. Perhaps, his only source of true intimacy comes from his brief meetings with an ex-girlfriend who has since married someone else, and can only offer abbreviated words and exchange enigmatic, knowing glances. One day, he photographs two lovers rendezvous in a park, the woman sees him, and proceeds to chase after him. Unable to retrieve the film, she turns to look for her lover, who has disappeared. Her name is Jane (Vanessa Redgrave), and she soon finds David's apartment, attempting to seduce him in order to get the negative. After developing the film, he begins to suspect that he has photographed a murder. Resurrected artistic passion quickly breaks the tedium as he obsessively reconstructs the incident using photographic blowups. Antonioni masterfully taunts the audience with the grainy, obscure black and white prints, hanging from the walls, like Rorschach tests. Is there something in the photographs to prove murder, or is it merely topographic aberration? There is no definitive answer. He returns to the park and does indeed find the body...but there are no obvious signs of foul play. Inevitably, the cause of the man's death is immaterial. Like many of Antonioni's films, Blowup is a parable of answered prayers: the idea that the distraction of wealth and fame cannot fill the void of loneliness, nor substitute for a soul's unrequited passion.

© Acquarello 1998. All rights reserved.

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