Thursday, April 28, 2011


When you do not believe in anything, how empty is your life? A story stunningly portraying the decay of Western civilization, L'avventura (literally The Adventure) goes where films as a rule don't go: a sincere attempt to comprehend reality. The film stops where Sandro stops: wanting sympathy, in despair, and himself not knowing where is the response. And, outside the pales of forgiving or forgetting, having crossed the sense of culpability in loving a forbidden, does Claudia know anymore?

Like leaves without wills blown at wind's whim, men and women flow about: what they leave behind is facades, ruins and church bells. What they desired is an answer to who they are: but they forgot to seek it in the other; they forgot to ask who the other is. Obsessed with the quest for themselves, every human comes crafted for them: Anna and Sandro have merely utilised each other in this lonely and selfish quest, and none has ever really thought about the other. None has known how horizons can be expanded; tragically, Anna's mysterious vanishing will only bring to the fore the inability to cope with themselves as they are. Sandro does find himself, would know what he is: a man unable to love. He will not need to look in Claudia's eyes for that judgment; he will need to look at the sky, or he will need to look at the buildings he never built. He is but the man who watches, envies, takes malicious pleasure in destroying the beauty he seeks, and tries to leave furtively; he is but the pitiable human who are born for greatness but are lost for ever in trying to deconstruct beauty. And the woman, Claudia?

Among the few women's films, l'Avventura is one. Monica Vitti (playing Claudia) neither is pretty nor knows very well to act, but the way Antonioni has used her is remarkable: she is not exactly wooden either, and her beauty is the kind that you will believe in one day and not the next day. Which is why, the constant focus on her face gives the film a double edge: a sympathy that she is ruining her life by falling into that love, but that she could not do anything otherwise. She is the one who still believes, who has that courage; and she has the horrible destiny of being undeceived: of how the others don't, and of how they can merely fit you in the scheme of things. Her belief, whether in Anna's being alive or whether in love and happiness, is never very well founded, yet never seems crazy, and seems a better thing to have than coldness which would be called realist by some.

It is a wonder to me how could a film be made so well demonstrating the decay at the heart of the West, and yet not take a preachy or a flippant tone. In a way, Fellini does the same thing with 81/2 but he adds in a lot more absurdity, which makes the effort that much less touching. Rohmer does the same thing in all his films, but Rohmer is more like Zola: he is empty of ideas. He only points the microscope at the bacteria, but has no ideas about the bacteria's place in universe. In addition, using stilted dialogues and contrived situations, Rohmer can often be preachy and indulging in vanity. But, here, we have a storyteller who knows the phenomenon and knows the evolution, who knows the germ and who knows the fruit: and one who is in love with stories and humanity, and thus with himself.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

L'uomo che verrà

It is as simple as a Daudet tale and it is as touching as the silent moonlight is: with a surprising sincerity even when the subject is Nazi devastation, avoiding rhetoric and background music scores that seek to put a story in relief, and treating children more like adults, L'uomo che verrà (int'l title: The Man Who Will Come) is first and foremost a story that desires respect for being story, for being truth: references can be dispensed with, even the actual Marzabotto massacre on which the film is based. If you've liked Hollywood and Polanski, you will not like this film: insincerity, pomp and loud activism find not a single echo here. If you love Tarkosvkiy and have asked yourself the question what can make a man so cruel, you will want to watch this film.

Education? That is the central question of the film: can it immunize a man to everything, and all the morals and all the conscience are only an education, a conditioning we have been born bathed in? Goring a human flesh and using a woman as your lover as good as it lasts: is there something wrong in it? Is it only yet another argument to justify cruelty, or is there no cruelty but in the head, in the imagination, in the fulfilment of the Other's desire through you? People want to be humane, as they are expected to behave so; they can easily want to be efficient killers, if they are started being expected to behave so? Where does desire get born? In yourself or in the Other? And yet, sometimes a shooting squad member will falter, a boy's blue uncomprehending eyes will ask him strange questions: is it simply that he was too grounded in his earlier education of morals and stuff? Those blue eyes, they don't trouble the other serial killer, after all. Shouldn't the blue eyes trouble every potential killer so as to prove an absolute?

In a very different way, the film raises almost the same questions as Tarkovskiy's beautiful Andrei Rublev raises, most notably during the Tatar raid in Rublev: an almost Salvador Dali-esque sequence, but instead of laughing in its face more intent on asking and asking. Beautifully shot, parts of the film will remind you of that yet another great movie, L'albero degli zoccoli; the grinding poverty of an Italian village and the dominant Catholic influence (absent in present-day Italy) do not serve to pigeonhole the film in an epoch, but only mark the universality of man's material concerns: food for himself and for his horse, clothes and marriage. A son, a daughter. Like many other Italian films, the film does not employ actors quite known, except Maya Sensa, who slips into her quiet role very efficiently; editing is not fancy but simple, and the film slowly lurches from grim monotony to shocking barbarity: just like it would have been for the inhabitants of Marzabotto. Disbelief. No, this can't be possible. Surely, not the church? Surely, not the women and children? Surely, not the priest?