A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Thursday, April 6, 2017

I Vinti (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1953)

Fay Compton and Peter Reynolds in I Vinti
Why did they burn Joan of Arc? a character asks in Michelangelo Antonioni's I Vinti. Because she got involved in politics, another replies. It's a response befitting the disengaged youth that are the focus of the three episodes in Antonioni's film, the title of which is often translated as The Vanquished. They are the postwar generation in Europe, deprived of the political fervor that drove their parents' generation into war. But Antonioni has another reason for sniping at politics: It interfered with his efforts to make and distribute the film, which was banned in France until 1963 and never received theatrical distribution in the United Kingdom, even though two of the episodes were filmed in those countries. One of the reasons for the bans was legal: The episodes were based on actual incidents and could have led to prosecution on various grounds. But Antonioni was also forced to change his original plan for the Italian episode, which was to have been about a violent act of political protest, and instead make his protagonist a kind of rebel without a cause: a young man who turns to cigarette smuggling as a reaction against his wealthy parents. The film as released also is weighed down by a didactic prologue explaining that these are stories about the plague of what was then called "juvenile delinquency" -- a heavy-handedness uncharacteristic of Antonioni as artist. The first of the three episodes takes place in France: A group of high school students play hooky, telling their parents that they're going on a class field trip, and instead go to the countryside where, in the ruins of a chateau, a boy who has boasted of how much money he has -- he ostentatiously lights his pipe with a five-dollar bill -- is shot and robbed, only to reveal that the money is fake. The Italian episode features Franco Interlenghi as Claudio, whose venture into cigarette smuggling is busted by the police. On the run, he shoots and kills a guard, but he also takes a fall from which he apparently suffers internal injuries. Rescued by his girlfriend (Anna Maria Ferrero), he returns home, but dies before the police can arrest him. In the English episode, a police reporter (Patrick Barr) for a London newspaper receives a call from a man (Peter Reynolds) who claims to have discovered a body in a park and wants to be paid for his story. Relishing the celebrity his story brings him, he eventually admits to having murdered the woman (Fay Compton), a prostitute, and is sentenced to death. Slight as the three episodes are, they are vivified by sharp writing -- the screenplay is by Antonioni, Giorgio Bassani, Suso Cecchi D'Amico, Diego Fabbri, Roger Nimier, and Turi Vasile -- and by the director's increasing virtuosity in placing his camera. The cinematography is by Enzo Serafin. Granted, what we often watch the early films of great directors for are signs of their future brilliance, and especially in the English section there are some striking foreshadowings of Blow-Up (1966). But making allowances for some of the restrictions under which Antonioni was working, I Vinti is impressive on its own. I was struck by the Hitchcockian humor in the English episode, when the reporter tangles with his unseen but hilariously incompetent switchboard operator. Unfortunately, the version I watched on FilmStruck retains the original dubbing of the French and English sections into Italian, but apparently there are undubbed DVD versions.

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