(Air Date: Week Of 12/18/96)
It's cool, it's euro-existential, like an elegantly long drag on a long euro cigarette -- in fact, it lasts 131 minutes. Visually, as the camera moves through blue rooms inhabited by bored aristocrats, through the fog on a highway, and along the lagoons of Venice, the aesthetic is beautifully Italian, but the emotional attitude is coolly French. What are we talking about? It's Michelangelo Antonioni's 1982 Identification of a Woman, now released for the first time in North America. This film is the quintessential recapitulation of the Antonioni look, of the Antonioni themes, and the existential isolation of Antonioni characters, wandering aimlessly in a search for connection.
Born in 1912, Antonioni gained recognition as an international filmmaker in 1960 with l'Aventura. In 1964 came Blow Up, depicting the swinging London of this era, and the quest for what's really real by a trendy photographer, played by David Hemmings. Proof that this film made its mark on the collective consciousness was its sendup in a Mad Magazine spoof entitled Throw Up, in which Hemmings entreats his models: Please beat me with your long hair.
The Passenger from 1975 is my favorite Antonioni work, maybe because its cool existentialism is tempered by the hot-blooded presence of Jack Nicholson, as the driver who changes identities with a dead man in North Africa, and the feline child-woman Maria Schneider, who has nothing better to do than ride around with him while he's pursued by something or other.
O.K., back to Identification of a Woman, which hearkens back to early Antonioni. The main character is, guess who, a recently divorced Italian film director. He has hot, but cold, sex with an elegantly decadent socialite, and goes to languidly elegant parties. They drive into fog -- he disappears, she disappears, they both reappear, and have hot, but cold, sex in the country. Then she really disappears, though he later spots her with her new lover, a woman. But now he's with an actress, with whom he has warm, but cool, sex. But then they're in Venice, where nothing good ever happens, and you know it's all doomed. Like Mad Magazine said, paraphrasing the basic Antonioni theme: Life is like a can of tuna fish. Sometimes it's good, and sometimes it's not so good.
Identification of a Woman is a beautiful, atmospheric, if somewhat long and vacuous movie, that Antonioni fans will love, and that Antonioni disparagers will disparage. If you're uninitiated, check it out if you have 131 minutes to spare.
Copyright 1996 Mary Weems
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