“Michelangelo Antonioni: Confronting The Modern World With Style” At BFI Southbank Now

Throughout January and February, BFI Southbank is hosting a series of screenings to celebrate the work of Michelangelo Antonioni whose influence on style, mood and outlook continues to resonate amongst filmmakers today.

Michelangelo Antonioni's The Passenger

BFI Southbank celebrates the work of Michelangelo Antonioni in its season entitled Confronting the Modern World with Style. Highlights include his haunting film The Passenger, featuring one of the great performances from Jack Nicholson in a film that excels in non-verbal communication.

Best known for his “trilogy on modernity and its discontents” (which included L’Avventura, La Notte and L’Eclisse), Antonioni is said to have “redefined the concept of narrative cinema” and challenged traditional approaches to storytelling, realism, drama, and the world at large. A multi award winner (including the Cannes Film Festival Jury Prize, Palme d’Or, the Venice Film Festival Silver Lion and Golden Lion), BFI Southbank’s season showcases the Italian’s focus on mood, gesture and environment; his appreciation of silence as meaningful dialogue exhibited in such films as Il Grido (The Cry, 1957) and L’Eclisse (Eclipse, 1962).

His international renown grew in 1960 with L’avventura; audiences worldwide experiencing the work of this experimental innovator and his trademark devices: enigmatic characters, long shots and long takes, chic costumes, and casual sex. In a speech at Cannes about L’Avventura, Antonioni said that in the modern age of reason and science, mankind still lives by “a rigid and stereotyped morality which all of us recognise as such and yet sustain out of cowardice and sheer laziness.”

That might explain why critic Zachary Wigon of L.A. Weekly said the film helped create “a new language of cinema, one that perfectly expressed a modern alienation that’s enduring as well as the film.”

Writes Geoff Andrew, Antonioni was “never really a neo-realist”, the former critic having quickly established himself “with a striking series of features notable for their visual elegance, narrative subtlety, and cool yet compassionate fascination with people striving to find satisfaction in a modern world devoted to material wellbeing, ‘progress’ and fleeting passions and fashions.”

The season continues into Antonioni’s move into international filmmaking. As part of his deal with producer Carlo Ponti, the Italian would make a series of English-language films including 1966’s Blow-Up set in Swinging London which enjoyed major international success. The script was loosely based on the short story The Devil’s Drool (otherwise known as Blow Up) by Argentinian writer Julio Cortázar and gave Antonioni the opportunity to look at social change, moral uncertainty and personal disillusionment in Britain. These were themes he continued to investigate as he made his first American film, Zabriskie Point, in 1970.

The later films, which include the documentary Chung Kuo, Cina, notes Andrew, “Display his enduring interest in visual and narrative experimentation, alongside a growing fascination with eroticism. Innovation and enigma remained integral to his work to the end.

You can enjoy a 2 for 1 offer on tickets for screenings by using the code “antonioni241” when booking tickets.

The Michelangelo Antonioni season at BFI Southbank is currently running until February 28.

About the Author
Rory Fish has loved movies since he can remember. If he was to put together an "all time" top 10 of absolute favourites it would have to include North By Northwest, 12 Angry Men and Sunset Boulevard.

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    Mark Fraser Reply

    I first saw The Passenger on VHS in 1986. Because I was younger and had a head full of pot at the time, I convinced myself that I must have dozed off during the last 10 minutes because there was a void that I couldn’t explain (yes – I could have rewatched it, but they didn’t have weekly rentals back in those days; plus the rest of the household wasn’t into watching immediate repeats). Any way, last year – after reading Martin’s review on this site – I purchased a DVD of it. To my disbelief it turns out I didn’t switch off all those years ago … I had indeed watched it all. (Another interesting thing was I always thought the scene when Jack is interviewing the African radical, in which the subject suggests that the interviewer turn the camera on himself, was early in the film when in fact it was quite late in the piece.) Not sure what the point of all this rambling is, except that one can easily get disorientated while watching Antonioni (as I discovered when recently tackling L’Adventura). Blow Up is good, but I’m not sure I would ever try to sit through Zabriskie Point again, though, even if it was on the screen and I had some pot.

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