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Cold, rain, and fog surround a plant in Ravenna. Factory waste pollutes local lakes; hulking anonymous ships pass or dock and raise quarantine flags. Guiliana, a housewife married to the plant manager, Ugo, is mentally ill, hiding it from her husband as best she can. She meets Zeller, an engineer en route to Patagonia to set up a factory. He pursues her, they join friends for a dinner party of sexual play, then, while Ugo is away on business, she fears that her son has polio. When she discovers the boy is faking, she goes to Zeller, panicked that no one needs her. He takes advantage of her distress, and she is again alone and ill. Written by
For the most part, I've never been terribly impressed by the "new wave" movements in the French and Italian cinema of the 1960s. How many times do we have to watch the upper middle class intelligentsia wallowing in their designer-alienated angst? And why don't those films ever bring up any mention of altruism? Perhaps those folks wouldn't feel so alienated if they got off their seats at the cafe, or on their yacht, and actually tried to participate in the world. Maybe they could help those who don't have the leisure to whine about their hardships in life. Or maybe they could even do something to counter the coldness and ugliness that surrounds them.
This film is different, because this time the isolation and coldness is real and tangible, and we are entrapped by it as much as the main character is. We can see the ugliness and filth sweeping over everything like a virus. And we can see how isolated one becomes when one discovers that s/he is the only one who seems to be sensitive to it. No one really sees or listens to Giuliana (including, I'm sorry to see, some of the commentators here at IMDb!). The people around her see her 'function' (wife, mother, sexy lady) but not her identity. I will admit that Monica Vitti isn't terrific in this. She gives a great 'performance', but it seems too much a performance. If she had been anything like Gena Rowlands in A WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE, this film would be a masterpiece. As it stands, it's still an excellent film.
As for this film's use of colors... I heard once that if you drop a copper penny into a goldfish bowl, it will eventually drain all the color from the fish. I don't know if that's true, but that is what essentially has happened to the town that's depicted in this film (and sadly, thousands of similar places all over the globe). People have adapted. And real color has been drained out of everything. The only colors we see in the film are manmade. Thick, bright, glossy paint coats everything from walls to houses to the pipes in the factories. There are no natural colors that contain any real texture or sensuality or warmth. Even the "natural" elements look unreal. The land is riddled with greenish muck, the sea is coated with muddy oil, and the sky is choking in clouds of frightening yellow smoke. The painted colors that we see throughout the town function like pink pebbles in a dirty goldfish bowl. It is a distraction that rapes one's senses. It's like muzak in an elevator. And by the end of the film, like Giuliana, we are suffocating from it.
There's an incredible scene about two-thirds of the way through the film where we escape with Giuliana in her mind to a dream world. There, the colors radiate from the shimmering sea, and the sand and the sky. And the surrounding hills have more sensuality and texture than the people in Giuliana's real world. I'm glad that Antonioni gave us this image. This film is certainly depressing, yet it has balance. There are few places left on this planet like Giuliana's pastoral island. But the fact of that image gives us a glimmer of hope, like Winston Smith and his journal in '1984'. Even if the only beauty that exists is in our minds, that's something.
I think this is definitely Antonioni's best film. It isn't for all tastes, but then, the best films never are.
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