Seth’s Favorite Film Discoveries of 2022

These are not new films released in 2022, but older pictures that I finally watched this year and have stayed with me. There are a lot of familiar names here that I thought I understood, only to realize I did not. Now, I do and it has enriched my life as a result. I was so elated to partake in the work of such wonderful old masters and look forward to filling in more gaps in my film knowledge in 2023.

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Movie Review – The Passenger

The Passenger (1975)
Written by Mark Peploe, Michelangelo Antonioni, and Peter Wollen
Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni

This will be our last stop with the filmmaker Michelangelo Antonioni, though he kept making films. It will have to be another time when we look at his work outside his four Monica Vitti films and his MGM trilogy, but we’re ending on an exceptionally high note. Financially this was not a success, and in the aftermath, Jack Nicholson was sold the rights after a dispute between him and MGM over another picture in development. The Passenger would sit on a shelf for three decades after its initial release, a film thought to be lost and only recaptured by going back to read the old reviews. In 2006, it finally received a DVD release and could be rediscovered by a new generation. It’s a dense picture, full of Antonioni’s common themes but lots of new settings and political ideas surfacing. The result is another enigmatic film that performs a kind of hypnosis on the viewer, a picture that is multiple things at once and deserving of considerable examination. 

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Movie Review – Zabriskie Point

Zabriskie Point (1970)
Written by Michelangelo Antonioni, Fred Gardner, Sam Shepard, Tonino Guerra, and Clare Peploe
Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni

Michelangelo Antonioni experienced his first commercial failure with Zabriskie Point. I never really thought of his movies as something that sought mass audience approval. His work in Italy felt extremely niche, but that could be because today, popular media is often so broad & so shallow that we aren’t used to seeing thoughtful, challenging works shown in the cineplex. The United States in 1970 was an incredibly different time than now, especially with film. Influenced by the revolution in filmmaking making happening in Europe, American directors and studios were trying to crank out fare that would appeal to the youth counterculture. Easy Rider crafted the mold, and everyone else chased it. Zabriskie Point is a movie that’s part of that shift, but it’s still Antonioni’s particular perspective on existence in the modern world and once again follows two people adrift in this strange new world.

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Movie Review – Blow-Up

Blow-Up (1966)
Written by Michelangelo Antonioni and Tonino Guerra
Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni

For some reason, I keep drawing parallels between Michelangelo Antonioni and Alfred Hitchcock, despite their radically different filmmaking styles. Even their narratives are different in structure. The connection I’m seeing is that, thematically, they are touching the same ideas, just in radically different manners. Hitchcock is devoted to the suspense thriller narrative and uses it to spotlight modernity-related anxieties. Rear Window, Vertigo, Psycho, etc., are all about people confronting horrors within the context of the mid-20th century. Where Hitchcock provides us with concrete antagonists to focus our anxieties on, Antonioni keeps things ambiguous, the horror is existential, and thus his conclusions feel bleaker.

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Movie Review – Red Desert

Red Desert (1964)
Written by Michelangelo Antonioni and Tonino Guerra
Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni

One of the marked changes to the Western landscape following World War II was a boom in technological innovations, particularly the transformation of industrial models. Plastic manufacturing took off, leading to the production of household items that were cheaper as they could be cranked out by machines rather than made by hand. Antonioni had been using landscapes, particularly those shaped by humans, as a constant source of alienation for his characters. They find themselves lost among the new buildings whose architecture looms over them in sinister coldness. In Red Desert, we find ourselves in a unique setting; we are no longer in the cities of Rome or Milan. Now we are in industrial Northern Italy, in a place called Ravenna. Factories sprawl across the landscape pumping bilious clouds of toxins into the air. The noise of machines drowns out the calm of nature. A river is saturated in pollutants.

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Movie Review – L’eclisse

L’eclisse (1962)
Written by Michelangelo Antonioni, Tonino Guerra, Elio Bartolini, and Ottiero Ottieri
Directed Michelangelo Antonioni

How can you love another person in the wake of fascism’s horrible rending of humanity? Loving someone when the death camps of the Nazis are just a train ride away? That feels impossible. Michelangelo Antonioni struggled with this as a human being, an Italian, and an artist. He was fully cognizant as Mussolini’s regime distorted and warped the Italian mind, working in league with other monsters. Antonioni stood in what was left of Italy and looked around. He saw a landscape pulsing with an aura of dread. Yet, somewhere inside of that was love. People whose hearts were aching for it but too scared to reach out. When they did, the hand recoiled quickly, overwhelmed with the anxiety of the love being offered to them as yet another mask obscuring the horror of existence in the modern world.

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Movie Review – La notte

La Notte (1961)
Written by Michelangelo Antonioni, Ennio Flaiano, and Tonino Guerra
Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni

You often hear a cacophony of right-wing voices decrying “modernity,” speaking to disaffected & disillusioned people about how this abstract concept is wearing away at their “simple” lives. What even is modernity? It can mean a myriad of things, but in each definition, it is always a rejection of the current forms & systems for a new design. When these pundits speak about modernity, they do so in the context of post-industrialization. For most people alive today, they or someone older in their family can recall a time of factories of a strong working class in America. Today, America doesn’t produce anything tangible. We’re dumping it all into crypto & NFTs or tearing a box of unopened Pokemon cards away from a child because this will be the investment that gets me out of the hole, right? We’re selling ourselves as a brand, streaming 24/7 because fame will be what gets me out of debt, right? We’re going above & beyond what the boss asked because if he sees me putting my soul through the office paper shredder, it will help me have enough money to not feel like dying every morning when I open my eyes to go through all of this again, right? The right-wingers are correct that modernity is a problem, but they certainly offer you zero solutions other than to give them what little money you have for things you don’t need. That is also modernity. Modernity may have done away with the old gods, but in its place, it just offers some plastic ones made in a sweatshop by children whose hands have been gnarled by their labor.

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Movie Review – L’avventura

L’avventura (1960)
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.

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