It’s been much commented-upon that Antonioni’s first color film (to be followed by his first English-language film, Blowup) makes remarkably restrained use of color. There is no Technicolor ebullience, no chromatic extravagance. Instead, there are subtle variations on a few core pastel hues, as well as much use of gray fog (and gray vegetables.) Color is not used as a naturalistic/realistic reflection of reality, but as a formal tool that modulates our anxiety and alienation as we observe the anxiety and alienation of Monica Vitti’s brittle protagonist.
The tableau above is emblematic of several that fill the film’s middle — meticulously-staged afternoony scenes in which rhythmically arranged human forms emerge out of the fog, as if emerging from their own inner worlds of doubt just long enough to glance at and grasp the anomie and pleasurelessness that constitute modern industrial society.
Antonioni is a great architect of mood, something that not all filmmakers can claim to be. Even in the still image above, devoid of all of film’s dynamic or temporal qualities, there is an emotional élan, a sense of dread in a permanent state of becoming, suspended outside of time…
The borderline-sociopathic title character (an Italian-dubbed Jean-Louis Trintignant) having a normal, conformist, nothing-out-of-the-ordinary train-car tryst with his libidinous wife (an innocent or prissy Stefania Sandrelli), on the way to (sexually/morally risky) Paris from (Fascist, neurotically obedient) Italy. Way to stifle those latent homosexual impulses, dude!
For what it’s worth, I saw this movie (which is obviously exquisite-looking and moody, but also maybe kinda shallow) at the Santa Monica Aero Theatre (part of Los Angeles’s American Cinematheque), and it looked real neat and had lots of titillating sexual ambiguity crashing up against retro-Fascist chilliness and it made perfunctory moral gestures against the seductiveness of ideological totalitarianism, but it nonetheless left me equivocating about its ultimate worth… It was one of many films I saw during my two-month stay at my grandmother’s in Southern California.
John Hurt as Control, the tragic, suspicious, melancholy, chain-smoking, soon-to-be-ousted-and-perished head of British intelligence — a tweedy product of WWII left adrift in the Cold War 70’s amongst conniving colleagues, an unknown Russian mole and a few scattered allies (who spend the movie attempting to rescue his legacy.)
Hurt looks rather the worse for wear, evincing a decrepit dignity beyond his 72 years. Flashy tie and nice herringbone, though…
Some compelling, bloody-mouthed images from one of the most unsettling, poignant, gruesome and sad films I have ever seen — all delivered in Denis’s signature visual style, which I have clumsily titled “hypnagogic realism.”
The film is, I kid you not, a plaintive Parisian lament for those most heartbroken, self-hating, tortured souls among us: sex-crazed cannibals who look like Vincent Gallo and Béatrice Dalle (easily two of the creepiest-looking people on the planet.)
Basically, it’s a fantastic, tricky, completely unique film — with an amazing score by British band Tindersticks (which I have previously posted about here.)
Speaking of which, how excited am I for Alain Resnais’s new film You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet! (French title: Vous n’avez encore rien vu) starring Lambert Wilson and about 17,253 other talented French actors? Very.