Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Antonioni (Deccan Herald, Jan 2013) http://www.deccanherald.com/content/303183/antonioni-master-storyteller.html

Antonioni: The master storyteller

Juanita Kakoty

The year 2012 was the 100th birth anniversary year of Michelangelo Antonioni, the master filmmaker who redefined filmmaking with novel cinematic narration and characterisation.Paying tribute to him, filmmaker Rajeev Srivastava organised a film festival at Siri Fort, New Delhi from 3 — 9 December 2012, showcasing the best of his films and documentaries. “Antonioni’s films are mostly about people who are not able to communicate or express themselves,” says Rajeev. “With his first few films, he shocked people with unusual characters who are beautiful yet ugly, who are protagonists but not heroes, relationships that are not compatible and perfect, characters which are very complex and starkly real.” And the hallmark of his films, reveals Rajeev, is what they progress to become.

“He redefined cinema in terms of how he dealt with the complexities of love, relationships, sexuality and other emotions like jealousy, lust, guilt, etc.,” reflects Rajeev.
“The complexity of treatment was always there from his first film Cronaca di un amore (1950) and blossomed in L’avventura (1960). But what is remarkable is that his films are never judgmental, nor do they ever preach.”

Storytelling, realism and drama moved away from traditional approaches in Antonioni’s films, which also boast of complex camerawork. As we walked out of the auditorium after the screening of Red Desert, which happens to be Antonioni’s first colour film, Rajeev tells me, “Did you notice how the landscape blends with the theme of the film — alienation of the modern world, of people from people?” The film is set in an industrial landscape and the architectural compositions substantiate the emotional and moral dissolution the protagonist (a woman) faces in a failing marriage and a burgeoning affair. Most of his films, in fact, address the issue of alienation and this comes from the fact that Antonioni was a post-World War II narrator, who explored the ambiguities of an alienated and dislocated Italy. He explored the ever-changing internal landscape through architecture, urban spaces, objects, shapes and emotions. And in his films, silence is as loud as noise, absence as vivid as presence, and the negative space as prominent as the positive.

The prodigious filmmaker was born in Ferrara (north-east Italy) on September 29, 1912. After high school, he graduated in Economics from the University of Bologna, where he began writing about films and criticised the famous Italian comedies of the 1930s. He even attempted to make a documentary in a lunatic asylum, but could not complete it as the inmates would be terrorised when the lights for camera went on. In 1940, he went to Rome to study direction at the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia. He then worked as a scriptwriter, collaborating with directors like Roberto Rossellini and Enrico Fulchignoni.
During 1943-47, he directed his first documentary, Gente del Po, which was followed by several other documentaries like N.U. and La Ville dei Mostri. Reviews on these works were encouraging; and his minimalist style, absence of structure in storytelling, and the way he observed reality in cinema were heralded as the beginning of a new trend in Italian cinema.

I learn some interesting bits during my conversation with Rajeev — Indira Gandhi had invited Antonioni for the film festival in New Delhi in January 1977. During that visit, he went to Agra to see the Taj and also to the Kumbh Mela in Allahabad, where he shot on a small camera. Ten years later, in 1987, he released a documentary on Allahabad  Monica Vitti came to be referred as ‘the ubiquitous Monica Vitti’ because she featured in most of his films. Mark Frechette, who played the lead role in Zabriskie Point, carried much of the tortured soul he played in the 1970 Antonioni film into his private life, to the extent of getting involved in a real-life bank robbery. A contemporary of Ingmar Bergman, Akira Kurosawa, Federico Fellini, Andrei Tarkovsky and Satyajit Ray, Antonioni and Bergman died the same day in 2007.

“L’avventura (1960) was his first international success,” narrates Rajeev. “Antonioni had signed a deal with producer Carlo Ponti for three films in English to be released by MGM. The first, Blowup (1966), set in London, was a major international success. The second film was Zabriskie Point (1970), his first film set in America with a counterculture theme. 

The soundtrack of the film carried music by the likes of Pink Floyd, the Grateful Dead and the Rolling Stones. The film, sadly, was a commercial disaster. The third film was The Passenger (1975), which received critical praise but, again, did poorly at the box-office.”

Antonioni has left behind a legacy of unstructured cinematic expression, a freedom in storytelling that was never seen before. He explored the emotional as well as the material circumstances that have a bearing on one’s life. And his films talk of life as it is —  never simple. Thanks to Rajeev and the Italian Cultural Centre for the DVDs, it was a great one week of fantastic Antonioni experience.

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