Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni died yesterday, the same day as Ingmar Bergman. He was 94.
If the Swedish filmmaker was a cornerstone of 1950s international cinema, the same applies to Antonioni in the 1960s. Along with Jean-Luc Godard, Francois Truffaut and others, Antonioni was one of the filmmakers who helped expand the conventions of movie making. His films broke the rules of what had come before. They were aggressively vague, elusive and eliptical. They were dreamlike and seemed to have little interest in small details like telling a traditional story. They were truly art films and for me, they’ve always been a challenge.
When I first saw Antonioni’s Blow-up many years ago, I didn’t see what all the fuss was about. Here was one of the most talked about movies in cinema history and I didn’t get it. I didn’t know it at the time, but this was one of Antonioni’s more accessible films and it was lost on me. I had a similar frustration over Godard’s Breathless and between these two films I decided it was time to start filling in some of the huge holes I still had in my film education, especially in foreign cinema. Over the next few years, this urge to understand inspired by Antonioni and Godard would take me through 40 years of European films: Renoir, Ophüls, De Sica, Rosselini, Carné, Bergman, Resnais, Dreyer, Bresson…anything I could get my hands on, one decade at a time.
When I finally got to the 1960s, Antonioni’s films would still prove to be the most difficult for me to digest. The truth is, they remain at something of a distance from me even now. They’re more accessible than Godard, but they’re no easier for me to penetrate. I’ve watched a lot of movies between my first Antonioni and my last, but I still feel I’m only scratching the surface of his films. I may never get to the bottom of them. Though he continues to confound me, I owe Antonioni for the whole world of cinema his challenge inspired me to open up and for a kind of journey I’m still on today.
I won’t even try to compete with the NY Times in terms of Antonioni’s biography or his significance. You can read their obit here. I expect Roger Ebert will have something to say on Antonioni as he has on Bergman. In the mean time, you can read his terrific appreciation of L’Avventura here. Jeffrey Wells has a nicely worded piece here. [UPDATE: Roger Ebert’s thoughts on Antonioni are here.