This mini-Antonioni festival, titled ‘Requiem for Antonioni’, comes in the wake of the great man’s death in July (he actually died on the same day as fellow art-house great Ingmar Bergman), and features the core films on which his reputation as a severely cerebral and challenging film artist rest. Crucial among these are of course his early-60s trilogy of ‘The Adventure’, ‘Night’, and ‘The Eclipse’, gorgeously filmed black and white studies in the spiritual barrenness of their upper-class Italian subjects. ‘The Adventure’ might be the most typical of Antonioni’s movies, with its open-ended plot and endless landscape shots that are as beautiful as they can be taxing to the patience of viewers brought up on the fast-cutting, thrill-a-minute pace of Hollywood blockbusters. (And taxing to the patience, indeed, of some of Antonioni’s fellow film legends: no less than Bergman and Orson Welles are on record as having been bored by Antonioni’s films.) It concerns a group of well-heeled northern Italians who take a boat trip around the islands of Southern Italy; the mysterious disappearance of one of the group’s women (she’s never found, and the characters apparently forget about her) leads to a meditation on ennui and isolation - not to mention on the beauty of the Italian actress Monica Vitti, whom the film established as an international star. When it was screened at the Cannes Film Festival, ‘The Adventure’ famously generated boos as well as cheers, but it still established its director as a moody, intelligent filmmaker to be reckoned with. The subsequent ‘Night’ and ‘The Eclipse’ are of a piece, thematically and visually, with their great predecessor. So is 1964’s ‘Red Desert’, Antonioni’s first colour film, in which Vitti returns as a lonely and mentally unstable woman coming to terms with her life and environment. The movie is renowned for its painterly visual style, which features alienating industrial landscapes, and for its eerie sound design, characterized by mysterious machine-like humming and clanging. (David Lynch must have taken notes.) Vitti stars in this unsettling movie as well. Antonioni’s best-known, if not his greatest, film is arguably ‘Blow-Up’, also being featured at Kyiv Cinema. His first English-language film, it’s a treatment of typically Antonionian themes – the unknowability of truth, the limits of perception –this time set in the Swinging London of the mid-sixties. The much-referenced plot is well-known: a trendy fashion photographer, by chance photographing a trysting couple in a park, captures on film what may or may not be evidence of a murder. But as always in Antonioni, treatment of philosophical questions is more important than the storyline, which is typically unresolved. Sixties audiences flocked to the film for its (by that era’s standards) graphic sex scenes and vivid evocation of Mod-era bohemia, complete with cameos by Jane Birkin and iconic model Verushka. And by the Yardbirds, then featuring both Jeff Beck and a pre-Led Zeppelin Jimmy Page. There’s a great throwaway moment in which an enraged Beck destroys his guitar as Page smirks on. The festival also includes some bad movies, but as the bad work of great artists can often be, they’re sometimes bad in an interesting way. ‘Zabriskie Point’ (1970), filmed in the United States, was an attempt to get to the heart of the American counter-culture. It was a massive commercial and critical flop, derided for its terrible faux-hip dialogue and for the blank performances of its young male and female leads, who had never acted before and amounted to little afterwards. (The male actor, Mark Frechette, donated his earnings from the movie to a California hippie commune and ended up dying in a weight-lifting accident in jail, where he was sent for participating in an armed robbery.) On the other hand, the movie’s a great time capsule and an interesting example of how a middle-aged European intellectual viewed the post-war United States.
This mini-Antonioni festival comes in the wake of the director’s death and features core films on which his reputation as a cerebral film artist rests
‘Identification of a Woman’ (1982), about a filmmaker struggling to find a subject for his next film, is another universally panned Antonioni product that’s screening at Kyiv, but unlike ‘Zabriskie Point’, there’s little interesting about it. As for ‘Eros’, a 2005 collection of short films by famous directors to which Antonioni contributed a lame segment called ‘The Dangerous Thread of Things’, the less said the better. All in all, this is a worthy series of films, the sort of cultural event that residents of European capitals should expect from their cities. The only negative point is that the films are, like most films that are shown in Ukraine, dubbed into Russian. Russian dubbing is more or less tolerable when the film in question is a special-effects spectacle like the latest Pirates of the Caribbean instalment, but great art-house movies deserve to have their dialogue left in the language they were filmed in. Monica Vitti shouldn’t have to ventriloquize Russian – it’s just wrong. Next time such a movie festival happens, bring on the subtitles!
Requiem for Antonioni, Through 19 October Kyiv Cinema 19 vul. Chervonoarmiyska For more details call 234-3380 or visit www.kievkino.com.ua