L’eclisse (Last of the Alienation Trilogy)

I finally finished watching yesterday Antonioni’s trilogy on Alienation, which I had begun a few months ago with La Notte, by watching the culmination L’eclisse. I liked this last movie quite a lot, though a little less than the powerful La Notte, but more than the first part of the trilogy: L’avventura.
The movie tells the story of fleetingness and disaffection, and is the best depiction of alienation amongst the three movies. There are few words in each of the movies, but L’eclisse takes the lack of dialog to the extreme. The characters in this movie are even more shallow and plagued with a greater indecision. The little dialog is drowned out in background noise of civilization – sound of an electric razor or the din at the stock market or ringing of telephones – the lack of communication between two people is acute and complete.
The whole story of alienation is brought to a wonderful culmination in the last scene, where the discontent of modern man is shown through shots of incomplete buildings, flowing water, growling buses, eroded faces, an unsmiling child and a sharp, blinding streetlight. All of it engulfed by a broken promise and the absence of a rendezvous.

The film tells the story of Vittoria, who breaks off with her fiance in the first scene and then meets Piero, a stockbroker and falls in love with him (if their relationship can be defined by the word love). The relationship remains on the periphery, due to Piero’s materialism and Vittoria’s indefinite aspirations. They endeavor to make their relation a reality with a promise to meet everyday, but the last shot ends with a shot of their proposed meeting place, which stands empty and desolate, indicating the rupture of the promise and an end of the relationship.

The actors have done a brilliant work with the characters, filling up for the lack of dialog. It is not that they act too well, or use their eyes to convey the unspoken. They just exist in a drawl, always full of emotion that stays masked a little thinly. Just perfect for Antonioni’s theme perhaps. I like Monica Vitti in general – specially for her role in L’avventura, but here she supersedes it with a complete foreignness. Alain Delon as Piero is coldly, cruelly very handsome, and reminded me of Daniel Day Lewis in Unbearable Lightness of being.

I had liked watching L’avventura too, though I thought that it ended very abruptly, especially with Claudia (Vitti again) accepting the shallow excuses offered by Sandro and choosing to stay with him despite reasons that had probably led her best friend Anna to escape. The landscape in the movie was stunning, and there, the island and the sea became the symbol of alienation.

A good essay on both movies can be found here and here.

I Vitelloni – Federico Fellini

I Vitelloni, like another Fellini movie Amarcord, depicts the life of youth in a provincial Italian town. Like Amarcord, it also takes us through the lives of a few young men in the coastal town of Pescara. These young men, with a characteristic immaturity and irresponsibility, dream of leaving the town and making a big future in the city, but never take a step towards making these dreams a reality. Vitelloni literally means large young calves – an appropriate term for these over-grown men with stunted maturity.

The main story revolves around a philanderer Fausto, who goes around flirting with many women, but when he gets one of the young beauties of the town pregnant, is forced by his father into marrying her. The marriage barely brings any change to his womanizing, though his wife continues to ignore the truth till the end.

Apart from this story of infidelity, the movie also takes us momentarily through the lives of Fausto’s friends – Alberto’s sadness over his sister’s affair, Leopoldo’s dreams of becoming a playwright and Moraldo’s thoughtfulness and introspection. Each of these stories are dealt with a beautiful subtlety, always placed in the empty streets of the town during nights or late/very early hours of the day. It is a technique which was used extensively in The Third Man and formed, in my opinion the strongest aspect of the movie.

The movie ends well, with Moraldo leaving the town, bidding farewell to a young boy. This boy perhaps is a younger version of these Vitelloni – happy with his inconsequential work at the station.

It is perhaps coincidental that most of the Italian movies that I have seen are based in coastal towns or somehow feature the sea, there is almost always one scene where the entire town comes out to stare at a glamorous woman and there are lot of voluptuous women chased with bawdy jokes. Perhaps La Notte is an exception where none of these features overtly exist. I really love to watch the sea in these movies, because it is always given the center stage somehow, as if the sea was single-handedly responsible for the shape given to the characters.

There is a good essay on this film by Tom Piazza here.

The bicycle thieves & Neorealism

Continuing my experiments with Italian movies, I watched De Sica’s masterpiece Ladri di biciclette (Bicycle Thieves) sometime back. The film was highly ordinary and non-special, and it was in this non-specialty that its charm lies. It is a story of desperation and poor luck, the kind that can (and does) fall on most people in their everyday lives. And that is the reason why the movie in particular and De Sica in general are tagged as the champions of Neorealism – a wave which dominated the post World War II Italian cinema and dealt exclusively with real people and their un-special lives.

Bicycle Thieves (I use the plural used by UK film distributors, because I think that is more correct in the light of the story, which actually was about two thieves rather than one) is a movie about a common man Ricci, who lives in the post world war Italy, and waits in queues to get a job. He finally finds one, on the condition that he has a bicycle. He pawns linen to get an old cycle that he had pawned earlier, and for a few minutes in the movie, we see happiness and hope on the face of this small family as they clean and polish the cycle which was to them, their route to happiness and comfort. However, as a viewer we know the name of the movie and are therefore not convinced by this show of happiness.

Sure enough, on the very first day of the much regarded job, a thief comes along and steals away Ricca’s cycle. Ricca along with his son Bruno and a few friends, struggles to find the cycle in bicycle markets, looking for each part as they expect the cycle to have been taken apart by the thief. This scene is particularly vivid and marks the desperation and finally the frustration of the father and the son. Defeated after this search and another hopeless pursuit, they both go to a pizzeria and spend the little money that they have on a sumptuous meal, the mental frame aptly described by Ricca’s words: What the hell! In this scene we also see the strengthening bond between the father and the son, and again for a moment there appears a shade of happiness.

Later, Ricca accidentally spots the thief and follows him – however the pursuit again proves futile as the thief is backed by a supportive neighborhood who are willing to give him a false alibi. Now truly broken and desperate, Ricca attempts to steal a bicycle himself to keep his job, but is caught and disgraced in front of his son. The end thus succinctly puts him at par with the thief, who also would have been driven to theft by his social conditions.

In the neorealistic style, De Sica has used non-professional actors in the movie, and has shot the entire movie on the streets of Rome, without the extensive use of sets and editing. Having grown up on Bollywood movies, I think that the reality offers a pleasant freshness despite the evident despair. There is nothing theatrical about the family’s tragedy – no overbearing landlords nor warlords. You can easily think : That could have been me – and through most of the movie, I did end up remembering my own despair at having my passport stolen on a crowded metro station of Paris, and my hopeless search for it.

Having said that, I am sure I would still continue to enjoy the more theatrical movies as much, because it is as important to sometimes escape reality as it is to sometimes face it.

Amarcord (I remember)

I have very recently begun exploring Italian movies, and Fellini is a revered name of this genre. Sometime back I watched Otto e Mezzo (8 1/2) by this movie-maker, and was rather impressed by the work. The movie is a depiction of a director’s brain-work as he struggles through a director’s block, exhausted of any original and artistic ideas. During this period, he delves into memories, fantasies, dreams and nightmares, mostly absurd and illogical. However, the viewer is always kept confused between the mind-work and reality, as both of them overlap with a persistence. It is a well known fact that it was an autobiographical movie, and after watching Amarcord, it appears that Fellini likes to put in an autobiographical element to his works.

Amarcord is far removed from the serious and a rather hopeless tone of Otto e Mezzo, and is a rough and risque comedy. It is Fellini’s recollection of his rustic hometown of Rimini, as he takes us through an year of this town’s life. It’s a town which enjoys its silly rituals, lusts after women and has a bunch of bored school boys indulging in fantasies that they hide from their prohibitive church. It is a rather conservative and retrograde town, rejoicing in simple entertainments like cheering the passage of a very large ship (Rex), and tumbles into chaotic activity on arrival of the Fascist leader Mussolini.
Though the movie is largely told from the perspective of young Titta, who is actually a cinematic version of Fellini’s own youth, it is actually a collage of different stories featuring different people. Though the scene with the tobacconist features in almost all discussions that I read of the film, I thought there were other sequences which deserved better attention – for example the sequence of church confession which depicted the un-accommodating and unrealistic nature of the church, the sequence about the uselessness of school education and the hilarious scene with uncle Teo!
This film has been described in many places as a ‘Coming of age’ film, though frankly, the ‘growing up’ part was not too visible to me. In fact I thought that the end scene where the town’s femme fatale gets married to a Fascist officer, almost eliminates from the story Titta and what happens to him at the year’s end.
Overall, I think this movie was a well done tribute from Fellini to his hometown, and it was apparent that he was looking back at this small place fondly and without reproach for all its misgivings.

The night

I hate the kind of work life that leaves little space for much else. Unfortunately for the past month, I have pretty much been in that sort of work life and missed out on watching enough movies or reading enough books. And of course writing down about whatever I did watch or read.
To be fair, though, I partially made up for the lack of movie watching in a single weekend by going for a marathon of seven movies over two days. Most of them were the kind of movies that I enjoyed – two of them particularly so: La Notte and The Brave One. Also watched both parts of the Japanese Ringu – much better and far scarier than the English versions that followed as ‘The Ring’ series. I think remakes are a bad idea in general – statistically speaking. Though of course The Ring did make its share of box office money.

I had been meaning to watch Anotnio’s ‘La Notte’ for a long time. (Of course, it is impossible to find sufficient time to do all the things that you would rather do – ironically you spent most of your life doing stuff that you would rather not). La Notte is the story of a night in a couple’s relationship – Giovanni & Lydia – It is a night both in the physical and metaphorical sense of the word. A culmination of what perhaps was a shining relationship, into the dusk of coldness and indifference – leading to the dark hour of perhaps eventual separation. Antonioni, in his typical style which says more through gestures than words, has taken the viewer though this painful sequence of distancing. It makes you wonder why two attractive people who have each other would seek the company and affections of others. In the beginning, this ‘other’-ly interest is subtle. Giovanni’s interest in a nymphomaniac, Lydia’s glances towards streetwalkers. That they are no longer ‘together’ is highlighted by Lydia’s otherworldliness in the presence of her husband. The estrangement is mutual – and it is because they both seemed to have married a concept rather than each other – Giovanni a rich attractive girl desired by many, Lydia a talented writer adored by lot. They try to love the concepts, and are therefore disappointed, annoyed and jealous in the real persons that lives behind those ideas.

The movie has a terrific ending – if novelists don’t know how to wind up their writing, I suppose they can pick up a cue from Antonioni. He knows how to do it in perfection.

Antonioni has done a remarkable work with this movie. It seems very real and un-dramatic. (Except for the scene with the nymphomaniac, which seemed a little out of place). I have really begun to like him quite a lot, though I think he can be (and IS) excruciatingly slow. thought I would hammer Jack Nicholson in ‘The passenger’ to make him move a little faster!
La Notte is supposed to be the second in a trilogy made in combination with L’Avventura and L’eclisse – either of which I have not seen, but will get on to soon. Even though it looks a little unlikely right at this moment.