Seeing and Nothingness

A must-see retrospective celebrates the work of a modernist master

Perhaps because so many of his movies are nominal thrillers, including his 1975 Jack Nicholson vehicle The Passenger, Antonioni is sometimes seen as an anti-Hitchcock. The two filmmakers could hardly be more different and yet they have their points of contact. Released the same year, Psycho and L'Avventura both confounded audiences by doing away, mid-movie, with their leading ladies. L'Avventura also shares with Vertigo a mesmerizing pace, an overwhelming sense of immanence, and a purposefully enigmatic causality. L'Eclisse rivals The Birdsas an absurdist disaster film; Blow-Up elaborates on Rear Window; The Passenger could be a deadpan travesty of North by Northwest.

Antonioni employs pointless plot elements as Hitchcock did macguffins—albeit not to establish but to destabilize narrative. Given his fascination with stories of missing objects (which is to say openly metaphysical versions of The Bicycle Thief), Antonioni orchestrated some of the most memorable endings in movie history. The pantomimed tennis game that concludes Blow-Up was the great head-scratcher of 1966, but it pales beside the slo-mo Pop Art explosion capping Zabriskie Point or the seven-minute track-and-zoom extravaganza that winds up The Passenger.

Hell is other people: Vitti (left) with Gabriele Ferzetti in L'Avventura
photo: Janus Films/Photofest
Hell is other people: Vitti (left) with Gabriele Ferzetti in L'Avventura

Details

The Vision That Changed Cinema: Michelangelo Antonioni
June 7 through 29, BAM Cinématek

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My favorite is the 58-shot coda to L'Eclisse. Antonioni's principals have simultaneously jilted each other; the filmmaker subjects the neighborhood where they were to have met to an apocalyptic neutron bomb effect. The stars are gone and so is the story. Humanity has left the building. All that remains is the arena wherein we can contemplate the impression of that absence.

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