Posts Tagged ‘Italian film’

The Passenger (Professione: reporter) (1975) **** Antonioni Retrospective

Dir.: Michelangelo Antonioni; Cast: Jack Nicholson, Maria Schneider, Jenny Runacre, Ian Hendry; Italy/France/Spain 1975, 126 min. 

In nearly all of Antonioni’s features the leading protagonists go missing: Aldo in El Grido jumps from the tower to his death, Anna in L’Aventura simply disappears on an island, having simply evaporated into thin air. And then there is his long time muse, Monica Vitti, who loses her identity during Deserto Rosso and L’Eclisse. In Professione: reporter, journalist David Locke has already lost his self identity before the film starts; assuming the guise of dead man only underlines his inner emptiness. Antonioni’s third and final feature in English, after Blow Up and Zabriskie Point, is dominated by the images, the camera circles around a man between two deaths.

David Locke (Nicholson) the titular character, lands in a desert outpost in Chad, trying to interview rebels, the heat makes him indolent. With his wife and adopted son behind in London, along with his TV producer, Locke has hit rock-bottom. He can’t even believe in his profession anymore: having sold out to market forces. Finding the corpse of colleague, who has died of a heart attack in his derelict hotel room, Locke only needs one glance at the dead man’s face to realise he could easily pass as Robertson – not that he’s particularly interested in impersonate him more than anyone else. In Roberton’s blue shirt, we watch Locke swap their passport  photos – as the fan on the ceiling bears witness. 

Finding a plane ticket to Munich in Robertson’s belongings, David flies to Germany, after a short incognito visit to London. In Munich he picks up a weapons catalogue from an airport locker, and is met by two men who give him an envelope containing a substantial amount of money. David has replaced Robertson as a gun-runner, serving a revolutionary African group. A further meeting in Spain is agreed by the the trio. Meanwhile, in London, Locke’s wife Rachel (Runacre) and his producer Martin Knight (Hendry) try to contact Robertson, to enquire about David’s state of mind when he died. In an editing room, Rachel watches clips from her husband’s old documentaries, including one featuring a brutal shooting. In Barcelona, Locke manages to avoid his wife, the police, and the two African clients. He meets a nameless architecture student (Maria Schneider), and they go round Gaudi buildings together. They set off for a meeting with the Africans in Algeciras, an oil port in southern Spain. Their relationship is in the here and now, but Locke, sensing the danger of having to evade the trio , shakes her off, promising a meeting in Tangiers. But when he arrives in the Algeciras hotel, she is waiting for him in the room. “What do want with me?”, he asks her exasperated, before the last act of the drama, underplayed, as undramatically  as possible – just like the rest of the feature. 

Locke hardly says a word in this monosyllabic film: conversations are fragmented, the last part play out like a silent film. The only reality is nature, as the protagonists’ significance shrinks away. The last seven minutes belong completely to Luciano Tovoli’s masterful camera: it pans through the grilled window of Locke’s room, and out into the piazza in front of the hotel; looking around, before returning to the room before everyone else: as in Cronaca di un amore the eliptical movement symbolises death. It is like watching the whole feature again. AS

Michelangelo Antonioni Retrospective | BFI | January 2019


7 Neo-Realist masterpieces

The Italian Neo-Realist movement kicked off just after the Second World War and brought together a group of Italian filmmakers who focused their ideas on stories set amongst the poor and the working class reflecting the austerity of the era and government cut-backs. Frequently using non-professional actors or children, or professionals playing strongly against their normal character types, the films were set in a background populated by local people brought in for the films.

NEO-REALISM rejected the strict guidelines that had been imposed during the war years by Benito Mussolini’s ‘White Telephone’ films that toed the party line and, instead, explored themes of economic hardship, oppression and social injustice in everyday life, particularly amongst the working classes. These had been brought about by the devastation of the war years and changes in the nation’s psyche after the war which caused fractures in film industry financing and actual physical damage to some film studios and equipment.  Not deterred by this a group of filmmakers got together and decided to use this difficulty to create an entirely new style: Neo-Realism was born.

1860The main protagonists of the Italian school auteur-wise were Vittorio De Sica with Bicycle Thieves (1948); Alessandro Biasetti with the photo-realist 1860,(1934); Giuseppe De Santis with Riso Amaro/Bitter Rice (1949); Luchino Visconti, who made the first film in the genre: Ossessione (1943) followed by Roberto Rossellini’s: Rome Open City, which won the Grand Prix at Cannes just after the War. Manoel de Oliviera (Aniki Bobo/1942) Jean Renoir (Toni/1935) had also embraced the style, and traditional elaborate studio sets gave way to shoots in the countryside and in the open streets.

ITALIAN NEO-REALISM rapidly declined in the early 1950s when the economic situation improved. Viaggio in Italia (1954) was widely regarded as the culminating masterpiece and the film that inspired the French New Wave and, in to a certain extent THE POLISH FILM SCHOOL and Indian filmmakers. By then, most Italians were also ready for the optimism offered by American cinema. The vision of existing poverty and despair, presented by the neorealist films, were seen as a dampener on a nation anxious to embrace the mood of optimism, prosperity and change and no longer wanted their dirty laundry washed in public, so to speak.

cropped-The_Gospel_According_to_Matthew_6-e1361801472550.jpgThe individual became the main focal point in the Italian cinema that followed in the 1960s. Antonioni’s Red Desert and Blow-Up take neo-realist themes and develop them in the search for knowledge brought on by Italy’s post-war economic and political climate. Giovanni Columbu’s Su Re (2012) and Pasolini’s Il Vangelo Secondo Matteo (1964) and Padre Padrone embody the characteristics of neorealism even though they were made much later and therefore cannot be classified as belonging to the genre.

Some filmmakers such as Vittoria de Sica and Luchino Visconti drifted away from pure neorealism into allegorical fantasy with films such as Il Miracolo di Milano (1951). One of the more tragic and moving is Umberto D (left), a story of elderly post war povertyOther features that embraced the genre are Jean Renoir’s Toni (1935), La Nave Bianca, Roberto Rossellini, (1941) Aniki-Bobo, Manoel de Oliviera (1942); People of the Po Valley, Michelangelo Antonioni (1947) Bitter Rice, Giuseppe de Santis(1949); Stromboli (Roberto Rossellini, 1950); Bellissima (Luchino Visconti, 1951); and Rome 11.00, Giuseppe De Santis (1952). MT




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