May 2011, arsenal cinema

Chronicles of Disappearance – The Films of Michelangelo Antonioni (2)


In January we will conclude the retrospective of films by Michelangelo Antonioni with several repeats, his last two full-length films (including the collaboration with Wim Wenders) and a documentary completed in 2008 on Antonioni's four-hour China film: CHINA IS FAR AWAY – ANTONIONI AND CHINA.

ZABRISKIE POINT (USA 1970, Jan. 1) An outsider's view of the United States between student unrest and the myth of a wonderland full of limitless potentials. Antonioni's first and only American production became a studio nightmare and box-office disaster for MGM. The flight of a young couple through the south-west of the United States and the desert landscape of Death Valley far away from civilization end in death and destruction. The apocalyptic ending is breathtaking: Antonioni has a luxurious mansion explode in slow motion, accompanied by the music of Pink Floyd.

IDENTIFICAZIONE DI UNA DONNA (Identification of a Woman, I/F 1982, Jan. 2 & 4), The last film Antonioni directed alone resembles a laconic re-vision of his earlier films, whose motifs and themes he takes up and partially shifts to the comical and absurd. Looking for the ideal leading actress, director Niccolò starts an affair with two women. Both relationships fail due to Niccolò's inability to commit to the other person. Instead, he gets lost in the labyrinth of the universe he seeks to understand. Antonioni visualizes his dream of conquering the sun with a flaming-orange screen and a child’s voice asking: "And then?"

Short film program No. 2 (Jan. 3): An examination of his early works is the focus of RITORNO A LISCA BIANCA  (I 1983). 23 years after L’AVVENTURA, Antonioni returns to several former locations of the film, capturing them in a short documentary. The images of the religious festival Kumbh Mela in India, which Antonioni shot in 1989 for INDIA-KUMBHA MELA, appear as a documentary echo of motifs found in his early works. People standing in the water and praying merge with the landscape, disappear in it and reappear again – images of great abstraction and beauty. NOTO, MANDORLI, VULCANO, STROMBOLI, CARNEVALE (I 1992; direction and concept: Michelangelo and Enrica Antonioni) shows spectacular aerial shots of the Sicilian volcano landscape. The cinematic portrait of the Italian capital Rome ROMA 90 (1990) was part of a series of films that on the occasion of the 1990 Soccer World Cup in Italy were meant to present the different venues. Antonioni's next to last film SICILIA (1997): a silent meditation on five Sicilian landscapes.

AL DI LÀ DELLE NUVOLE (Beyond the Clouds, Michelangelo Antonioni, Wim Wenders I/F/D 1995, Jan. 3 & 6) After becoming semi-paralyzed after suffering a stroke in 1985, Antonioni was assisted by his wife and Wim Wenders in shooting a film, ten years after IDENTIFICAZIONE, based on one of his short stories: narratives of love, fateful encounters and the poetry of places and their moods.

CHINA IS FAR AWAY – ANTONIONI AND CHINA (Liu Haiping, China 2008, Jan. 7) As is known, Antonioni's documentary on China, CHUNG KUO (1972), along with all other films of the Italian director, was banned by the Chinese government immediately after it was completed in 1972. Only as late as in 2004 was the ban lifted and the documentary screened for the first time, prompting Chinese director Lin Haiping to visit several filming locations, persons involved in the film and Antonioni himself in Italy, asking him about his experiences during his stay in China. These encounters led to an informative document that sheds light on the historical context of CHUNG KUO.