Monica Vitti

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L'Eclisse Review


Very Good
It's impossible not to sound like a snob when writing about Antonioni's movies -- hell, the guy's name is "Michelangelo" -- but writing about the spare L'Eclisse is the worst job of all.

Antonioni's films rarely vary from a tight thematic script that ranges from melancholy to loneliness to despair. In L'Eclisse, he focuses that beam on Monica Vitti, an almost stereotypically detached Italian woman whose engagement falls apart in the opening scenes of the film -- though it's virtually without dialogue for 15 minutes. Eventually Vitti's Vittoria hooks up with Piero (Alain Delon), and the remainder of the film concerns their relationship -- as it were, anyway.

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The Phantom Of Liberty Review


Good
In 1972, when he was in his 80s, director Luis Buñuel released what is very likely his masterpiece, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie. The film is a marvel for a lot of reasons, but one of its hallmarks is the constant digressions of its plot; it moves unexpectedly from dream sequence to reality in ever-deepening convolutions, as though Buñuel placed equal weight on our waking and irrational lives. In his next film, 1974's The Phantom of Liberty, he dispensed with plot, as it is traditionally understood, altogether. In this penultimate outing, Buñuel focuses on the role of chance in life, on the free-associative substance of dreams, and on the arbitrariness of social conventions, and he extends that focus to the film's structure itself.

The continuity of The Phantom of Liberty isn't entirely random; the plot moves from one character's set of circumstances to another's, taking the film with it and only rarely returning to previous narrative strands. (Richard Linklater's Slacker is an example of another film - perhaps the only other film - with a vaguely comparable structure.) The Phantom of Liberty begins with the execution of Spanish partisans by Napoleonic troops in Toledo in 1808, an incident memorialized in Goya's famous painting "Third of May." The film, in fact, opens with this image - and it recurs more dependably than any character does - the intended irony being that the partisans were fighting against the greater freedoms that the Napoleonic Code afforded, and thus against liberty. Among the French troops is a captain whom we follow into a cathedral; there he makes sexual advances on the statue of a certain Dona Elvira, whose body rests beneath the cathedral floor, until he is assaulted by the statue of her late husband, which kneels next to hers. To this point the film has been narrated, and here the scene shifts to a nanny in contemporary times who is reading the captain's tale out loud in a park. As she reads, the young girls in her charge are approached by a shifty man who offers to show the girls some photos, warning that no grown-ups are to see them. We then meet the father of one of the girls ("I'm sick of symmetry," he announces while handling a display box containing a giant spider); he and his wife are outraged when shown the photos, and later the man's sleep is haunted by a mailman, who delivers a letter to his bed, and what I took to be an ostrich sauntering casually through the room. The following day this man's doctor explains that he's not interested in his patients' dreams, but the man insists that he wasn't dreaming and offers the letter he received as proof.

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L'Avventura Review


Essential
Clap, you bastards! After the receipt of scathing reviews during its initial presentation in Cannes, the urban alienation of Michelangelo Antonioni's L'Avventura feels more prevalent than ever. Look around at society and you'll find a collection of bored automatons plugging away at jobs they hate, returning to bourgeois homes and values as a mask to disguise their malaise. If Fight Club didn't have Brad Pitt and Edward Norton smashing each other's faces in as catharsis, their lives might resemble those of Sandro (Gabriele Ferzetti) and Anna (Lea Massari), a couple who can barely make love without distraction.

In their perpetual search for fun, this unhappy pair are all giggles as they embark on a yacht trip near Sicily, swimming and exploring a nearby island. Anna finds amusement in yelling "shark" when her friends are bathing, just to see if there's any life in them. "Throw up your head and then you'll wake up in the Dawn of the Dead," indeed. No wonder Anna claims she wants to be left alone.

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La Notte Review


Very Good
Antonioni's La Notte tells the story of a couple (Marcello Mastroianni and Jeanne Moreau) who essentially agree they no longer care for each other. Before the titular notte is up, those feelings will change, brought out during an all-night cocktail party and a sudden rainstorm. La Notte is a slow and methodical film, like all of Antonioni's work, but La Notte's wandering first act makes it hard to embrace all-out. A dead-on Mastroianni steals the show from Moreau and Monica Vitti, who catfight for his affections and come off as little more than ambivalent twins.

The Mystery Of Oberwald Review


Weak
A minor work of Michelangelo Antonioni, The Mystery of Oberwald is not something many outside the Antonioni-obsessed will care to seek out. Shot on videotape in 1980, the movie once stood as a daring experiment in feature filmmaking by using the nascent format of tape. Today, it looks cheesy and cheap, akin to a low-budget soap opera shot in a hurry.

And soap opera isn't far from the mark. Oberwald's story, based on Jean Cocteau's play L'Aigle a Deux Tetes, involves a mourning queen (Antonioni regular Monica Vitti) whose husband has recently been killed. An assassin is on her tail as well, but when the two finally meet, she sees he has been injured, and owing in part to his resemblance to her late husband, the two fall in love, Romeo & Juliet style. Like I said, a soap opera.

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