Monday, October 29, 2012

Zabriskie Point

Even if not for Antonioni himself, Zabriskie Point would be a shame to miss for Daria Halprin’s voluptuous beauty: which, surprisingly, seems to have been a neglected feature given how the film is universally panned. Her male counterpart, Mark Frechette, also doesn’t do a bad job: and slips in his role with perfect ease, particularly since Frechette’s own life paralleled the role he’s playing in the film. It’s an irony of sorts though that director Antonioni has apparent sympathies placed in no camp: rather, from consumerism to the hippie movement and the counter-culture that swept through America in the ‘60s, he views all of that as nothing more – and nothing less – than a product of ennui, that has usurped human lives once belief disintegrated or decayed.

Zabriskie Point is a continuation of the exploration of the modern condition by the master director: and he does so brilliantly well, using the locales of Mojave desert in a stunning manner (Antonioni would once again situate human barrenness in desolate landscapes in The Passenger, to be written about later). In the tight canvas of the film, there is no hope anywhere: except in inviting death. Antonioni’s films have always been analyses of the decadence of the Western society, but here for the first time he is crisper, more concrete: a specific society, a specific time and a specific location. The desert orgy scene is brilliantly conceived, though I could have wished for more extras: how the anti-establishment wave would soon transform into free sex, free love and little more. Antonioni gives no clue in the film itself whether he views it as degeneration or celebration, which makes the film reach a greater height. It is as if a dispassionate analysis, an observation of all that is happening: the viewer who can think is free to draw his or her own conclusions.

The film raises fearful questions, just as Dostoyevsky did with The Devils. Today’s Western, in particular American, society has many of these hippies in the role of the older adults; today’s West has consumerism and counter-establishment as its God and Devil, whichever side one may choose – as its genesis. To where does one go from here? Technology has enabled man to forget his moral chasm: till when can this be supported? Till what time will a myriad of games, from philosophies to gadgets, keep diverting man away from his basic inability to love and to believe? Until when can man make himself forget that he’s now contented to be a coward?

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Luce dei miei occhi

Great actors putting in beautiful performances; some suitable, unobtrusive music; beautiful cinematography ... and yet, the ultimate strength of Luce dei miei occhi (int’l title: Light of My Eyes) is its fleshing out of every major character: Antonio, Maria and Lisa. I have seen even the best of films getting away with loose character development: that seems to be the job of books; but here is a film that slowly but surely comes home, that is not concerned with anything flashy but the eyes of Antonio, full of questions and reprising the role of “il viaggiatore” (the traveller). And yet the film leaves also a thousand questions in the air: through shots of people’s faces, crumbs of their conversations, flakes of people’s lives here and there, all as much real as the dreams in which Antonio moves: those stories are still to be made or getting somewhere made. That this world of immense possibilities exists, where travellers come, care for and leave, is established right at the beginning: when Antonio becomes a part and parcel of a family’s daily life. That even if a prime number, he can learn the ways of those on this planet is established, when he gets away blackmailing a man whose job this was so far to do (Donati as a lower-key version of Zhivago’s Komarovsky, and played by Silvio Orlando with as much guts as was done by Steiger).

The film once again belongs to Luigi Lo Cascio as well; seldom is that gentleness seen on an actor’s face repeatedly, in film after film (I have in fact never seen that before on the face of any male cinema actor after recognition). Because of Lo Cascio and the film’s more than outlined characters, the film is not merely some domestic or sentimental drama, some obsession with stories of here and now, as is common in a lot of Hollywood as well as certain sections of European cinema, too: rather, the film rises above them, partly on account of the science fiction analogy too running throughout the film, and raises several questions about our existence, our reactions, our emotions and sentiments, and how much it means for us to be blindly in love, to blindly believe, to want to do that. The loser is not the one indulging in unrequited love: love is its own reward. The loser is the one who could not accept to be loved, even if this everything be seen in victor and loser terms. Though, there is never any victor, never any loser, except in the eyes of a world which measures every action in terms of “getting her to bed”; everyone is grappling with own dreams and fears, with own insecurities and reasonings. Can you go beyond yours to understand those of others?