Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Top 5 Movies of Michelangelo Antonioni

My favorites from the Italian Modernist

I had the indulgence of seeing Michelangelo Antonioni’s “Blow-Up” on HD last week. Again that is. This was probably my 7th or 8th time but watching this masterpiece from the Italian modernist filmmaker in high definition glory just blew me away. After all, according to cinema critic Richard Corliss, this was the movie that defied conventions and “helped liberate Hollywood from its puritanical prurience”!

So, now that you know my love for this celebrated filmmaker, I present below some of his very best movies or rather my personal Top 5 for your reading pleasure. As always, I have added all video links that I could find so that you can also view these great movies.

L'Avventura/ aka The Adventure (1960/Mystery) - Its slow, stately pacing caused absolute chaos at the 1960 Cannes Film Festival, but this remains one of Antonioni's finest with Empire magazine ranking it one of 'The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema'. Part one of the ‘Incommunicability’ Trilogy and the film that launched the career of Monica Vitti, this movie is a beautifully constructed tale of futility, idleness and deception revealed through the search for a missing woman. Antonioni uses little dialogue; what is said, therefore, we pay attention to. Likewise, the director's trademark blank compositions are very much in evidence. Also starring Gabriele Ferzetti and Lea Massari.

L'Eclisse/ aka The Eclipse (1962/Drama/Romance) - The final part of the 'Incommunicability' Trilogy, preceded by La notte; Antonioni's masterpiece stars Monica Vitti and Alain Delon as a couple in a modern, desperate relationship as seen through the eyes of the auteur of alienation. Though his view of the eclipse of emotion is ultimately bleak, there are touches of humor along the way. The justifiably famous ending poetically sums up the film through a montage of rich images. Though nominated for the Palme d'Or (Golden Palm) at the 1962 Cannes Film Festival, this won the Jury Special Prize.

Blow Up (1966/Mystery/Thriller) - A mod, metaphysical London, a mocking, mad world and a murder mystery provide the ideal setup in this Oscar nominated numinous whodunit that also made Antonioni, an international star and inspired Brain De Palma’s Blow Out (1981). David Hemmings, a swinging English photographer (in the likes of David Bailey) more concerned with art than reality, discovers a sinister truth when his camera unknowingly witnesses a murder. Antonioni's most accessible film and also his first English-language film is a profound meditation on the nature of representation. Based on the 1959 short story by Julio Cortazar’s “The Devil’s Drool”. With Vanessa Redgrave and Sarah Miles. A genuine masterpiece, don’t miss this.

Zabriskie Point (1970/Drama)- Antonioni's impression of late 60's American youth counterculture was a colossal flop during its initial release Рcritics finding it crammed with condescending clich̩ and dated attitudes. An irritating but totally intriguing mess with Sam Sheppard listed as a contributor to the non existent screenplay in which Mark Frechette is insufferable as a college boy who hides out in the desert with a sexy Chick after shooting down a pig. In spite of all its various shortcomings, I found it full of beautiful images, especially the desert scenery, a few occasionally affecting insights and a dazzling soundtrack featuring the Rolling Stones, Grateful Dead and the supreme Pink Floyd amongst others.

The Passenger / Professione : Reporter (1975/Drama/Mystery/Thriller) - Jack Nicholson provides the ultimate in cool alienation in one of Antonioni fine depiction of male angst. Nicholson plays a journalist who decides to take on a dead man's identity in an anonymous desert setting, then plunges deeper and deeper into your classic existential malaise in this 1975 Cannes “Plame d’Or” nominated gem. Maria Schneider (Last Tango in Paris) provides some temporary relief. Jack is absolutely prime; the moody photography is memorable. An excellent choice for Nicholson, art film fans and film students alike. The Passenger’s penultimate long take 8 minute shot (in those days when there was no steadicam) is alone worth the price of admission. Watch out for Steven Berkoff. If you like this, you should also see the similarly scripted Jim Jarmusch’s The Limits of Control(2009).


  1. Great list. Only thing I'd do is swap out Zabriskie Point and throw in Red Desert. It's funny to think that Blow-Up could be considered his most acceissible film, certainly not the first word I think of when that film comes to mind but still a great one regardless. I remember it showing in a first year film studies class and everyone hated it. It ruined my mood for about a week until I began thinking about it and understanding just what the hell it was about.

  2. Thanks Mike! Even I had the dilemma when considering Zabriskie Point for this list but for some reason, I still feel it deserved an entry.

  3. I loved "Red Dessert" and "La Notte". I am big fan of early Antonioni. Thanks!

  4. No la Notte?????


    ? NOOOOO!!! Otherwise, great list and great write up. I will definitely check out Blow Out!


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