Michelangelo Antonioni

The Italian film director Michelangelo Antonioni (born 1912) demonstrated in such compelling and original films as L'avventura and Blow-Up his belief that the failure of human feelings is the cause of modern tragedy.

Born into an upper-middle-class family in Ferrara, Michelangelo Antonioni took a degree in political economics at the University of Bologna. Having decided on a film career, he worked with the directors Roberto Rossellini and Marcel Carné, among others. The first films Antonioni directed were three notable documentary shorts: Gente del Po (1947), La funivia del Faloria (1950), and La villa dei mostri (1950).

Antonioni's first full-length dramatic effort, Cronaca di un amore (1950), was distinguished by its disavowal of the fundamental precepts of Italian neorealism as practiced by the directors Vittorio de Sica and Rossellini and later modified by Federico Fellini. Antonioni's next work, I vinti (1952), proved an unsuccessful attempt to lend thematic unity to an episodic and discursive narrative. Considerably more interesting as indicators of the consistent subjects and themes of his film career were Le amiche (1955) and II grido (1957). Both these narratives present the spiritual complexities that trouble Antonioni; they show human beings in quest of meaningful life in a hostile world.

With L'avventura (1960) Antonioni, after 10 years of virtual obscurity, suddenly set fire to complacent sensibilities of international film audiences and critics. A penetrating voyage into the tortured recesses of the mind, this film explores the difficulty of sustaining love in a cauterized and fraudulent society. This theme also provided the basis for the two subsequent works: La notte (1961) and Eclipse (1962). In both these films Antonioni stresses the impermanence of love and difficulties of communication.

Red Desert (1964) was Antonioni's first film in color. He used color to create psychological nuances and conceptual patterns not possible in chiaroscuro. The images of Red Desert explore the theme of human uneasiness in a world full of the splendors and miseries of technology. Blow-Up (1966) is a metaphysical mystery drama set in London. This film is an evocative mixture of asceticism and lyricism, which eludes patterns of interpretation and frustrates conventional expectations of plot and theme. Zabriskie Point (1970) suffers from the director's unfamiliarity with his American milieu. A portrait of troubled youth in a wealthy, neofascistic society, the work is nevertheless far superior to its American counterparts. In The Passenger (1975), Antonioni again explores the ills of modern society as the hero, a TV reporter, exchanges identities with a dead gun-runner in a futile effort to evade his own fate. The Oberwald Mystery (1980) is an adaptation of Jean Cocteau's play The Eagle Has Two Heads; shot on video, it is interesting mainly for its experimentation with color. Identification of a Woman (1982) follows a movie director's search for a new leading lady; here Antonioni returns to the theme of finding one's identity in contemporary society. The film was awarded a Grand Prix at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival.

Antonioni suffered a paralyzing stroke in 1985 and was unable to complete any film project until 1995, when he released Beyond the Clouds. Codirected by German director Wim Wenders, the film presents four stories that each explore the failure of a couple to establish true communication. When the film was shown at the Venice Festival the Economist noted that its "main fascination is to watch how Mr. Antonioni looks back on his entire career and yet comes up with something different and modern."

Perhaps no other body of cinematic work depicts the frustrations, delusions, and possibilities of life and love as profoundly and truthfully as that of Antonioni. His characters move in a real world but never make meaningful contact with their environment or with each other in their search for a truth that eludes them.


Further Reading on Michelangelo Antonioni

Analyses of Antonioni's artistry are contained in Jonathan Baumbach's "From A to Antonioni: Hallucinations of a Movie Addict" in W.R. Robinson, ed., Man and the Movies (1967); in Stanley Kauffmann's "Some Notes on a Year with Blow-Up" in Richard Schickel and John Simon, eds., Film: Sixty Seven to Sixty Eight (1968); in Sam Rohdie's Antonioni (Indiana University Press, 1990), and in William Arrowsmith's Antonioni: The Poet of Images, ed. by Ted Perry (Oxford, 1995). See also the relevant sections in Stanley Kauffmann, A World on Film: Criticism and Comment (1966), Dwight MacDonald, Dwight MacDonald on Movies (1969), Economist (September 16, 1995), New Republic (October 28, 1996).