Posts Tagged ‘Michelangelo Antonioni’

Fist of Film: Bellocchio’s Best

March 19, 2010

For a while, it looked like we had lost Marco Bellocchio. Following his 1965 debut Fists in the Pocket, the Italian philosophy student-turned-director was an indelible presence at the art house. His satires on the hypocrisy of church, state and middle class displayed tremendous filmmaking flair, earning comparisons to Jean Vigo and Max Ophüls. Then his films stopped crossing the Atlantic.

Intellectual bitterness was out of fashion until a new generation of directors like Il Divo Paolo Sorrentino, La meglio gioventu ’s Marco Tullio Giordana and Sabina Guzzanti’s Viva Zapatero took up Bellocchio’s slack. With the Silver Ribbon-winning Vincere, he’s back in theatres. In typical fashion, the love/hate story of Benito Mussolini and his lover Ida Dasler is also the story of how fascism seduced a nation. Here’s five more of his films you need to see.

I pugni in tasca (Fists in the Pocket) (1965)

In a sun-baked estate, a family of epileptics idles away the days driving each other crazy. Alessandro (Lou Castel), however, has a plan to end the generational disease forever. Flaunting his own perverse streak, the 26-year-old Bellocchio got his relatives to fund a film about the ultimate dysfunctional clan, and then shot it in the house where he grew up. The simmering rage impressed many, but Luis Bunuel and Antonioni both gave their acolyte’s first film the thumbs down.

La Cina è vicina (China is Near) (1967)

How do you follow one of the great debuts of the 1960s? By unleashing your deviants into the world. While Prof. Malvezzi breaks into politics on the socialist side, his promiscuous sister Elena (co-scenarist Elda Tattoli) brings the class war into the boudoir. On the outside looking in are a scheming pair of office workers who think marrying into this bunch will be their ticket to the good life. The vicious satire is set to a score by Ennio Morricone.

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The Italian Job: Memo to Croker

January 27, 2010

Made in 1969, the year following Roeg/Cammell’s Performance, The Italian Job is an interesting counterpoint to that Borges-gone-gangster head-fuck. The storyline has a similar relay race quality. Fresh from prison, the flash Charlie Croker (Michael Caine) receives a 16mm film. A thief has left his will on film. It is a plan to lift a payroll from an armored car in the middle of Turin. The gist of the scheme is neatly summed up by Croker as “4 million dollars through a traffic jam.” Clear some space on the poster.

Croker breaks back into prison to get the patronage of criminal boss Mr. Bridger (Noel Coward, having a relaxed time). Initially reluctant to commit his resources to the idea, the patriotic kingpin is swayed by news of an Italian-Chinese trading pact. Once this hurdle is cleared, it remains for a gang to be assembled, drivers recruited, and the mob to knock over the truck. Somebody says, “You were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off.” The remainder of the film is devoted to a car chase with three Mini Coopers easily outwitting the police and their fiats. With the cars driving up, down and over anything in their path, the sequence may be one of the greatest car adverts ever filmed.

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Antichrist: Vu de l’extérieur

January 14, 2010

It says something about the extraordinary Antichrist that the first time Squally saw it, the film felt like a comedy. The second time, it felt like a tragedy. The movie was greeted with jeers at Cannes, which writer/director Lars von Trier brushed off with the proclamation, “I am the world’s greatest filmmaker.”

The critics were trying to take Antichrist too seriously. In dealing with the disintegration of a woman, after all, Von Trier was walking on hallowed ground. The cracked woman is a favorite trope of (male) directors, whether it’s Marnie or Rebecca, Catherine Deneuve in Roman Polanski’s Repulsion, Monica Vitti in Michelangelo Antonioni’s Red Desert, any number of women in Bergman’s films, Gena Rowlands in John Cassavetes’s A Woman Under the Influence, Julianne Moore in Todd Haynes’s Safe, or especially Isabelle Huppert in The Piano Teacher, by von Trier’s bete noire, Michael Haneke. Squally could go on, but let’s just say that it’s one of the greatest clichés of the art house cinema: a beautiful woman goes to pieces, the beautiful actress who plays her is acclaimed for the performance.

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Le Amiche: When the Rain Starts to Fall

October 29, 2009

Michelangelo Antonioni’s fourth feature Le Amiche (1955) fails to offer the bizarre delights or metaphysical headspinning of Blow-Up (1966) or The Passenger (1975). But it is a useful stop on the way, a neat melodrama with the Italian film critic-turned-director sharpening his knife to be used on the throat of the Italian bourgeoisie. The film also finds him using the camera to explore not only urban space, but the relationship between the people and things within that space.

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Everybody needs money. That’s why they call it money.

April 2, 2009

Money is a touchy thing, which may explain why movies don’t get too serious about it. Coming down off a marathon session of Planet Money podcasts made it feel like it was high time to look at the movies that get it right. Or at least “get it right” in the view from our apple stand. Here’s a brief history of onscreen finance, dating from the dawn of cinema to 9/11. What did we miss? Leave your suggestions in the comments box.

A Corner in Wheat (D.W. Griffith, 1909)

One of the film pioneer’s most daring experiments in montage shows how a financier’s machinations leads to devastation on the farm and starvation on the breadline. The boss chokes on his own grain; the downbeat ending sticks in the craw.

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