Written & Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni
Once upon a time, there was a little boy named Michelangelo. He was born to a wealthy family in Ferrara, Italy. He played with the local children, who weren’t rich, and he remembered them fondly for the rest of his life. Before he died, he was married twice, made some movies, and even had a long relationship with one of his actresses. In July 2007, he passed away. Oh yes, before that, when he was a young man in Rome he worked at Cinema, the official Fascist film magazine of Italy run by Mussolini’s son. This should have been a job that Michelangelo was born for, but he was fired a few months later. He was eventually drafted into the Italian army when World War II began. Oh yes, this one is important too: He survived being condemned to death as part of the Italian resistance against the Fascists. He learned some things in that life of his.
Anna (Lea Massari) is about to go on a yachting day trip. She meets up with her friend Claudia (Monica Vitti). Anna also brings along her boyfriend, Sandro (Gabriele Ferzetti). They go on their cruise, landing at the Aeolian Islands. Anna says she saw a shark in the water, which gets her sympathy from Sandro. Later, she tells Claudia she lied. Later, while wandering around on the island, Anna vanishes. Claudia, Sandro, and their friends look everywhere for her, but she’s not on the island. They start looking more, following rumors & sightings. Along the way, these two people become close but can’t get over thinking about Anna, even though she isn’t there anymore. They never find her. Doesn’t sound like much of an “adventure” to me. Does it to you?
When the film came out at Cannes, it was not well received. The audience booed and gave catcalls over the movie. The critics seemed to like it like they really matter. Did they get it? Likely not. Does it matter? Not really.
While Hitchcock was working in the United States making similar but different movies (Psycho came out the same year), Antonioni wasn’t interested in artificial tension. He just let things happen with no tension, no release. Just the absence. The emptiness where a person was supposed to be. It was a yawning gap between two individuals. An absence that drew them closer. An absence that could never be filled back in. Why? I dunno. They run around and find nothing. They just keep ending up looking at each other. They do things without really understanding why they do them. They do things to do them. They receive nothing in the end.
People like to say the movie is “about alienation.” What does that mean? About? Is that what it is about? There’s nothing there between these individuals. Just big empty nothing. You’re holding on until the last minute to see where Anna is. But have they been? They were the only two in their group that even put up an effort after the initial search on the island. Every other rich asshole fucked off and went on living their life.
Antonioni lived in the wake of the fascist collapse. That’s what fascist movements do. They collapse. And they try to take you with them. Hilariously, The New York Times critic Bosley Crowther (yes, that was his real name. laugh now) said watching the movie was like watching a film with reels missing. Crowther wanted satisfaction, and Antonioni said, “Nope.” Pauline Kael (what a gem) got it. She was one of the good ones. She said this about the movie: “Too shallow to be truly lonely. They are people trying to escape their boredom by reaching out to one another and finding only boredom once again.”
When people with too much get bored, they look for distractions. I open the news websites back in Middle Tennessee, where I grew up, and all I see are headlines telling you how bad it is. I know people in that place who are doing good things, mutual aid, and just taking care of each other. Why is the local news not reporting that but making sure you know about road rage shootings and the mental breakdown of sad, broken people. Why would they put all that hate in front of you? I discovered something interesting. When I turned my VPN off, and those same sites saw I wasn’t in the States, I was met with a message that “I was not in the correct area” or some such shit, and it wouldn’t show me the stories. Then I clicked the VPN on, and there was horror after horror to consume. Why do you think it is the projector showing you the worst of yourself isn’t pointed out here but internally. Sounds to me like some wealthy, bored people are trying to agitate a wasp’s nest and just see what happens. They are safe, literal killer robots in San Francisco now. They’re bored and want to watch what you do to each other when you’re convinced you have to kill your neighbors. It ain’t my neighbor I need to be worried about. What happens when these wealthy, influential people get bored with making you kill each other? What then?
Uncle Joe Biden rolled out a lean, mean killing machine called the B-whatever number. It is an efficient nuclear death machine that I have no doubt will turn poor brown people in other parts of the world into a clean pink mist at the touch of a button from someone half a world away. What happens when they get bored using it over there? Those people don’t matter, right? Hm. What happens when they decide your neighbor has just acted out too much. Where do you think that sleek nuclear monster will point, then? Lots of bored, unfulfilled rich assholes in that country I left. So bored, and you are so broken. Last I checked, more of you than them. Are you bored? Shall we play?
Welcome to the films of Michelangelo Antonioni. It’s about time we talked about fascism, what it is, and what it wants to do to you.
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