Film Scouts Diaries

1995 Venice Film Festival Diaries
Venice Diary - Day 6

by Daniele Heymann

Italian daily "Il Corriere Della Sera" hailed it as "The Antonioni Day". Fourteen years after his last film, "Identification of a Woman", and the stroke that left him paralyzed and deemed lost (at least to films), the return of the last mythical "maestro" of Italian cinema was greeted with religious respect, vibrant emotion, and consensual admiration that bordered on idol worshipping. Ironically, Antonioni never enjoyed such unanimity when he was healthy and productive.

It all started with the press conference when Antonioni walked in, ever so slowly, taking small steps, one at a time. His right side is still paralyzed but his left arm is vigorously raised in a defiant gesture of salute and victory. The voice is gone, but, as someone will later say, "his voice is in his images". The smile is intact, a moving cocktail of irony and melancholy. Cast and crew join him on the podium, chairs are added. All incredibly ravishing, his actresses--Spanish star Ines Sastre; Chiara Caselli and Kim Rossi Stuart, from Italy; Fanny Ardant and Irene Jacob, from France--make the most graceful praetorian guard. Missing are Sophie Marceau, who stayed in Paris with her new-born son, Vincent, and John Malkovich, the talkative yet enigmatic emcee of the four-parter film (he's shooting Jane Campion's "Portrait of A Lady" in England). "Beyond The Clouds"--an eminently "antonionian" title--is based on a book by Antonioni published twelve years ago, "That Bowling Alley on the Tiber River".

Wim Wenders, who co-wrote the script, assisted Antonioni throughout the shoot and directed the film's prologue, epilogue and linking segments, was the first to speak. "Being allowed just to stand by Michelangelo was a gift and I feel privileged," he said with a voice so soft one had to bend forward to hear him. "No one has his sense of place, architecture, and frame. It's always been his secret, and although I never left his side, I still haven't discovered that secret... We often make movies in order to live, he lives in order to make films."

Wenders' remarks started a roundalay of compliments and tributes. Per one actress, "Antonioni is a great painter who used me as he would a tube of colour." Per another, "Antonioni is a gardener and we were his plants." A galaxy away from Robocop's punitive sorties, Peter Weller remembered that while shooting with Antonioni, he was also working on Woody Allen's "Mighty Aphrodite". "The two men are extraordinarily similar," he said, "in their creativity, and the strength they project. When I was with Woody, all he wanted to talk about was Antonioni."

The Gala night in the Main Hall was attended by Italy's President, Mr. Luigi Scalfaro, who was roundly booed when he arrived--not for political reasons but because, being 27 minutes late, he had kept the maestro waiting...

One expected a masterpiece. One should never expect a masterpiece, even from Antonioni. The maestro's new opus is a beautifully poetic but slightly cold reverie, a fragmented symphony of unquenched desires and seductive frustrations, a display of handsomely naked bodies under the nostalgic gaze of a man for whom youth is now a distant country, a mental journey from Ferrara under the fog to Aix-en-Provence at night through Portofino in the rain and a Paris all in greys.

Although infinitely respectful, the critics expressed their relative disappointment. "It is with great displeasure and enormous regret," wrote Irene Bignardi in "La Repubblica," "that I must report Michelangelo Antonioni--who demonstrates that the power of the eye and of the mind can break through the illness-imposed wall of silence--has not, in this complex production package, succeeded in making a film that is entirely his."

The following day, also in "La Repubblica," director Bernardo Bertolucci penned a "Dear Critics" letter defending Antonioni. Stating that for once, scribes could have taken a day off and refrained from automatic professional judgment, he wrote: "Michelangelo's victory over physical adversity is already a miracle--and I say this without heart-tugging emotion or melodramatic compassion. The enormous effort to think, write, shoot and edit his film is compensated by the supreme lightness of the result, a lightness akin to [sculptor] Giacometti's.

"A hint of cinephilia would have sufficed to realize, as early as the end of the first episode (even if it's not the best of the lot), that Antonioni has successfully recaptured the creative drive of his most inspired and prolific period, from 'L'Avventura' to 'The Red Desert'."

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