Saturday, July 05, 2008

[Michelangelo Antonioni Retrospective] Al di Là Delle Nuvole (Beyond the Clouds) (1995)

Prelude to a Kiss

This the the final feature film that Michelangelo Antonioni directed, with the help of Wim Wenders, and adapts from his short story collection "That Bowling Alley on the Tiber". Beyond the Clouds contain 4 short stories with familiar themes that we've come to be accustomed to from his earlier works, and sums up those themes in vignettes which are weaved together via Wenders' directed scenes involving John Malkovich's The Director character. However, most of the stories seemed to offer little or no depth that we're used to from an Antonioni movie, while Malkovich's narration of supposed depth rattled on with unclear diction that sounded a tad pretentious and out of place.

Nonetheless, all four stories seem to touch on chance encounters, and extremely quick romances that played out more like lust at first sight, perhaps due to the lack of time (since they're short stories anyway) to allow for a more layered approach to carefully define and craft the characters as we know from a typical Antonioni movie. And the obsessive approach here is for the characters to disrobe to showcase a lack of deeper connection sacrificed for the immediate satisfaction of the flesh. Maybe this is the point to want to bring across with an observation of the more modern relationship?

The first story, Story of a Love Affair That Never Existed, tells the romance between Silvano (Kim Rossi Stuart) and Carmen (Ines Sastre), who meet when one asks the other for directions to a hotel, and later meet at a cafe. It's as if Fate is playing games on them when they meet, but part and meet again much later, but like the games people play, it's almost like a ">L'Avventura or a La Notte with the lack of communication, and of the expectations from the man.

John Malkovich's director character takes central role in the next short, who exhibited some really lecherous looks toward a girl working at a shop, played by Sophie Marceau. She is deeply disturbed and made to feel uncomfortable, but somehow plucked up the courage to approach him, and in what I thought was to scare him off, tells him her background that she murdered her father by stabbing him 12 times. But in a flash these two are off toward bedroom gymnastics.

The next short, Don't Look for Me, is the longest of the lot, with Peter Weller playing a cheating husband who has to choose between his mistress (Chiara Caselli) or his wife, played by Fanny Ardant. Perhaps the more star studded of the lot, with Jean Reno also stepping in for a coda at the end of it, which sort of expands the little universe in which this short exists. But unfortunately Reno's involvement also got relegated to some stifle of laughter as it goes into the implausible domain with laser quick romantic involvement. There was a key element adapted from L'Eclisse with a kiss between a couple through a glass panel too, while the introductory tale about the story of souls was quite interesting. If there's a negative theme here this short wants to play upon, it'll be the duplicity of man.

In between this short and the next was a small scene which reunited our couple from La Notte, Marcello Mastroianni and Jeanne Moreau, where the former was painting a landscape which was reminiscent of that in Red Desert. Finally, we have the final shot This Body of Dirt, with Vincent Perez as a young man going after a girl (Irene Jacob) whom he just met, and falling in love with her, only to realize that it is a love that is too late. It's a relatively talkie piece, just like the first story, with the characters engaging in conversation while walking the streets of the city they're in, which sort of brings to mind Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise.

While on the whole the movie may have succeeded as individual pieces, they never quite measure up as a combined effort given the "excuse" to link them up was a film director's exploration of possible stories and a look for inspiration for his next film.

This movie also marks the end of the Michelangelo Antonioni Retrospective proper at the National Museum. For those who enjoyed Antonioni's masterpiece trilogy L'Avventura, La Notte and L'Eclisse, the 3 films are up for a second screening consecutively and in chronological order tomorrow, so be sure to catch them once again in their 35mm glory.

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