CHUNG KUO – CHINA
1972, Rai Teche, 215 min, Italy, Dir: Michelangelo Antonioni

Rarely screened in its complete form, CHUNG KUO – CHINA is a fascinating foray into the heart of Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution. Originally invited to make a piece of propaganda, Antonioni took advantage of his unprecedented access and shot nearly 100 hours of travel footage across three regions in China to create this grand-scale documentary. Although Antonioni’s subtle observational style was far too unfocused to earn the Communist government’s approval (leading to widespread efforts to halt the film’s distribution), his lively interest in his subjects can be felt in every frame. A collage of human faces and very little dialogue, the film is an immersive travelogue and perhaps the best of his documentaries.


IL GRIDO
1957, Compass Film, 116 min, Italy/USA, Dir: Michelangelo Antonioni

Commonly described as a link between the Italian neorealist movement and Antonioni’s most famous works of the following decade, IL GRIDO follows a disillusioned working-class man (Steve Cochran) who voluntarily detaches himself from all facets of society. Disappointed by everyone in his life, including his lover (Alida Valli), the man wanders the Po Valley, vainly searching for human connection. As in his best films, Antonioni sets a thoroughly bleak tone throughout by hermetically enclosing his characters in chilling landscapes and stark industrial environments. Winner of the Golden Leopard Award at the 1957 Locarno International Film Festival.


LE AMICHE
THE GIRLFRIENDS
1955, Janus Films, 104 min, Italy, Dir: Michelangelo Antonioni

This major early achievement by Michelangelo Antonioni bears the first signs of the cinema-changing style for which he would soon be world-famous. This brilliantly observed, fragmentary depiction of modern bourgeois life is conveyed from the perspective of five Turinese women. As four of the friends try to make sense of the suicide attempt of the fifth, they find themselves examining their own troubled romantic lives. With suggestions of the theme of modern alienation and the fastidious visual abstraction that would define such later masterpieces as L'AVVENTURA, Antonioni’s film is a devastating take on doomed love and fraught friendship.


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