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Il Grido

Of all the giants who dominated arthouses in the '50s and '60s, Michelangelo Antonioni may have suffered the most from the passage of time—not because the years have passed him by, but because they've caught up with him. How much hold does Blow-Up's toying with illusion and reality possess when The Matrix is presented as popular entertainment? Is it possible to be upset by L'Avventura's portrayal of the dissolution of monogamy and idealized love after the general indifference with which the public treated the Lewinsky scandal? It may be that, as the chief cinematic prophesier of the collapse of centralized meaning and tradition, Antonioni is now too much our contemporary to achieve the same impact he did in the past. That said, you won't find the total immersion Antonioni frequently achieves—finding the best possible common ground between the spellbinding and the tedious—anywhere else, so it's nice to see the video premieres of two of his least-seen films. Released in 1957, the formative Il Grido finds Antonioni, like Fellini at the time, still shaking off the influence of neo-realism by making a film that looks toward both his influences and his future. After receiving news that the husband of his lover (Alida Valli) has died in Australia, mechanic Steve Cochran asks her to marry him. When Valli refuses, Cochran gathers up their child and a few possessions and hits the road. A prototype for alienated drifters to come, though notably set apart by social class, Cochran moves through one dreary, impoverished post-war Italian landscape after another, striking up untenable relationships with a succession of women before beginning the journey home. If Antonioni's assuredness isn't yet in place, Il Grido remains a key transitional work, with remarkable photography, fluid camerawork, and a typically unforgettable finale ranking among its most notable virtues. Important in establishing Antonioni's Italian reputation, Il Grido arrived shortly before the director found international acclaim with L'Avventura; by contrast, 1982's Identification Of A Woman arrived as that reputation began to shrink, in part the result of the ambitious but financially disappointing video/film project The Mystery Of Oberwald. Rarely screened in this country, having lost theatrical distribution after disastrous early reviews, Identification now looks every inch the Antonioni film, though it's a bit more aimless than usual. Combining the concerns of L'Avventura with the feel of The Passenger, it features the latter's coolly surfaced cinematography, air of low-intensity paranoia, and concern with the slipperiness of identity. If it lacks the same effectiveness, it still offers expected pleasures along the way. The story of (self-indulgence red flag number one) a film director and his affairs with two beautiful women (number two), Identification Of A Woman finds Antonioni still viewing love as a near-impossibility, even among middle-aged men and mysterious chic women. Whether you find his use of a science-fiction fantasy sequence involving a cheap-looking spaceship flying toward the sun an effective symbol or a laughable bit of bathos should determine your reaction to the film, which is unmistakably Antonioni in both its best moments and its worst.


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