Monday, December 23, 2013

Michelangelo Antonioni's first narrative film, STORY OF A LOVE AFFAIR, holds up pretty well

It's an odd experience, catching up with one of Italy's master directors' first narrative film (which he made after nine documentaries, both short and full-length): STORY OF A LOVE AFFAIR (Cronaca di un amore) from Michelangelo Antonioni. This is particularly true viewing it at the end of his career, after seeing almost all of his other work. So much that would concern this filmmaker throughout his working life is already here in this 98-minute piece, which is full of the despair and disconnect that haunt so many of his movies.

What's more, this tale -- of a husband, uneasy in his new marriage to a super-attractive wife, who hires a private detective to learn of her past, consequently stirring up a nest of guilt that sets in action events that lead to betrayal -- points in almost a straight line to the marvelous new movie that just opened this week: The Past. Consciously or not, I would say that Iran's Asghar Farhadi has been greatly influenced by some of Signore Antonioni's signature concerns. The latter director, who died in 2007 (hard to believe that he's been gone so long already), seemed most taken -- at least until he became more experimental (Beyond the Clouds and Eros) toward the end of his career -- with time, place and past guilt that refuses to let go.

In this case, that guilt is shared by our protagonists, the reason for which only becomes clear as the movie unfurls. Because the film is set and was made in the very early post-World War II years (1949), one might also perceive some collective guilt concerning Italy's position during the war. Antonioni divides his time between the wealthy and the working class, showing us the boredom and petty concerns of the former against the constant struggle of the latter. Still, everyone is out for his/her best shot.

The leading roles are taken by the gorgeous and glamorous Lucia Bosé (below) and the foremost Italian hunk of that era, Massimo Girotti (Ossessione and Fabiola), above, and both are everything you'd want in a typically handsome couple of this time. The filmmaker's skill at showing how his detective ferrets out important information is sterling, and it has as much to do with building the character (or lack of it) of our leading lady, as does the work of Ms Bosé, once she finally appears on the scene.

The visuals are generally striking, both beautiful and lonely, as expected with Antonioni, with the black-and-white cinematography by Enzo Serafin something to gaze upon and relish. The spaces, the distances, the camera angles all seem in the service of pushing forward the sense of discontent and disconnect.

Where the film may disappoint to some extent comes in the shallow characterizations. (This may be the point.) These two people -- particularly the woman, Paola -- are lost before the film ever begins, and Paola's almost constant fretting, frowning, complaining and wavering between her rich hubby and would-be lover, Guido, is almost enough to turn us (not to mention poor Guido) off her completely.

If we stick around (and we do), it's mostly for those cunning visuals and for the tactile sense of waste, fear, foreboding and despair that Antonioni captures. You can take a look at this, the first major narrative movie from one of filmmaking's masters, on Netflix streaming, Amazon Instant Video, and on DVD.

No comments: