Michelangelo Antonioni: the Cinema Eye on Modern Times
The director who showed all the anxieties and the malaises of modern society
Michelangelo Antonioni was an Italian director who, in the period after the Second World War, showed all the anxieties and the malaises of modern society through his movies.
He began writing cinema articles for two newspapers and then went to Rome in 1942, where he wrote the screenplay for a Rossellini movie (A Pilot Returns, 1942). In 1943, he directed the short documentary Gente del Po (People of the Po Valley, 1947). In 1950, after several other short movies, he directed his first movie, Cronaca di un amore (Story of a Love Affair, 1950), in which he began to address the issue of the crisis of feelings and the sense of loneliness of people.
This theme of the crisis is particularly strong in Il grido (The Cry, 1957), in which a man and woman leave each other and the man begins a solitary trip through the Po valley, trying to deal with his sorrow and emptiness. This movie also has some of the properties of Antonioni’s style: the use of the long take and of dead times and a minor relevance of editing in favour of a slower and contemplative pace.
His success began in 1960 with L’Avventura (The Adventure, 1960). The main character of the movie is Anna (Monica Vitti), a girl who feels a sense of alienation and who does not understand her feelings for Sandro (Gabriele Ferzetti). During a holiday in the Aeolian Islands, Anna disappears and her absence characterizes the rest of the movie, representing the loss and decline of human relations.
In 1964, Antonioni directed his first colour film: Il Deserto Rosso (Red Desert, 1964). The movie is set in industrial Ravenna and shows the life of Giuliana (Monica Vitti), who suffers from depression and, like Anna, does not find meaning in her relation with Ugo. She is not able to live her life, but neither manages to change: she dreams of going away, taking a ship and leaving, but she is scared of the sea.
After the success of these movies, Antonioni had a long experience abroad, directing three movies in English, set in different places of the world: Blow Up (1966), the story of a photographer in “swinging London”, Zabriskie Point (1970), concerning the student protests in California, and The Passenger (1975), set in Africa, about a reporter who acquires the identity of another man.
In the last years of his life, Antonioni directed a few movies, such as Al di là delle nuvole (Beyond The Clouds, 1995), based on his book of short stories That Bowling Along The Tiber.
All the characters in his movies have a strong relationship with external spaces, where they are an expression of their inner being. The Italian writer Giuliana Bruno calls this “psycho-geographical navigation,” as in the way Antonioni shows the feelings of his characters. Antonioni examined in depth human beings, working the camera in an unusual way and breaking the traditional rules of the storytelling.
He created a very personal way to represents human feelings on the big screen and analysed current themes such as alienation and emargination in a period filled with violent social changes, from the Second World War to the booming economy of the sixties and the seventies, thus becoming one of the most important directors in Italy and in the world.