Intro to ESFS Festival #1 – Antonioni’s Alienation Trilogy

explore_751_105_originalOne of the driving forces behind ESFS has always been to search for the new, even in the things that we think we know.  Therefore, I happily admit that going into this festival, Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni is almost a complete blind spot for me.  I watched and really liked Blow-Up in college, and me and Dub actually reviewed Il Grido together on one of my blogs in 2007 (I’ll post that Duelling Review later into the festival), but I had never seen any of the 3 films that are somewhat cheekily known as his “alienation trilogy”.

Those three films, which we will be covering in order, are: L’Avventura (I’ll be reviewing that on Monday, and check out the preview below); La Notte (Mike Dub review coming 2/17); and L’Eclisse (another Daniel Barnes review coming 2/24).  L’Avventura and L’Eclisse are available to watch on Hulu Plus, and of course, all 3 are available for DVD rental from Netflix.

I have watched L’Avventura, but I want to leave my specific thoughts on that film for my review, which will be published on Monday morning.  Instead, I want to just throw out a few ideas to contemplate as we watch these 3 films:

*Is Antonioni still relevant?  He is one of those pantheon-ready maestro directors who seems to have fallen into neglect in recent years, not unlike his fellow countryman Fellini.  However, having recently watched Abbas Kiarostami’s Certified Copy, and to a lesser extent the Asghar Farhadi films A Separation and The Past, my first viewing of L’Avventura made it clear that Antonioni still has some influence on the modern world cinema.  Perhaps this relevance is especially true of an emergent cinematic treasure trove like Iran, which went through a long cultural freeze during the times that L’Avventura plunged down the Sight and Sound lists (#2 in 1962, #5 in 1972, #8 in 1982, and never heard from again).  On the other hand, ennui-soaked mood poems have been growing in popularity in American independent cinema as well.  I would make the case that Gerry, Elephant, and Last Days form Gus van Sant’s own “alienation trilogy”, and all three films appear to owe a deep formal and narrative debt to Antonioni.

*At the 1960 Cannes Film Festival, L’Avventura was awarded a special prize: “For a new movie language and the beauty of its images” (that language is according to the pre-credits card – I have found a number of different phrasings, but the gist is the same in all of them).  Clearly, Antonioni creates beautiful images, but what is the “movie language” that Antonioni creates with these films, and is it really “new”, even for the early 1960’s?

mv3

*Monica Vitti is featured in all three films, and also starred in Red Desert, Antonioni’s 1964 follow-up to L’Eclisse. What is it about Vitti that made her Antonioni’s muse of modern alienation and moral despair? 

*How does the concept of “alienation” tie into each of these films?  How does it tie into Antonioni’s overall visual and narrative aesthetic?  What modes and levels of alienation are on display?   Antonioni came from wealthy landowning parents and was an accomplished intellectual; he initially wrote for a Fascist film publication, but he was also a member of the Resistance; he cut his directorial teeth with the Neo-Realist movement, yet became world-famous for depicting the idle rich as soulless zombies.  He seems to be a man who was often alienated from himself.  How does the alienation in these films tie into Antonioni’s vision of the modern world of 1960?  And what, if anything, does it have to say about the modern world of 2014?

Let’s start the discussion on Monday.