Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Antonioni's Most Powerful Muse

Michelangelo worked with some of the most beautiful and finest actors of the past fifty years ranging from Alain Delon to Sophie Marceau and Jeanne Moreau to Jack Nicholson. One actress inspired Antonioni above all of the others though and she would be the center of several of his films, as well as his life, for many years.
If there is a face that defines the European Art film of the sixties then it belongs to Maria Louisa Ceciarelli, or as she came to be known in the film world, Monica Vitti.
The striking Vitti was born in Rome in the early 1930's and after appearing in just a handful of Italian film and tv roles in the fifties (including some minor work with Antonioni in 57) became an overnight sensation with her audacious and powerful turn in Antonioni's L'AVVENTURA. With a face unlike any other and a powerful stare that seems to cut through the screen, Vitti was not like anything that had ever been seen before in cinema and Antonioni's strange masterpiece was the perfect vehicle for her. It is impossible to imagine the film without her, it is a clear example of an ultimate connection between an actor and a role.
After working uncredited on Pasolini's ACCATONE (1961), Monica re teamed with Michelangelo on the powerful L'ECLISSE (1962) opposite an equally beautiful and haunted Alain Delon. Watching the two of these great icons together in this film is an absolute pleasure and at times they don't even look like they could be from this planet. L'ECLISSE is one of Antonioni's most perfect films and Vitti is again absolutely unforgettable as the projection of his most unique and lasting dreams.
Monica would continue to work for the next three years in a variety of roles until Antonioni gave her what is, in my opinion, her finest role in RED DESERT (1964). Vitti is heartbreaking in this film as a woman who is increasingly becoming more and more isolated and disconnected not only from the world around her, but also herself. The film's final moments with her and her child staring up at a cloudy polluted sky is one of the most defining, if often, overlooked moments in Antonioni's canon.
Monica would continue to be one of the most in demand Italian actresses of the sixties and her great roles after RED DESERT include her underrated turn as MODESTY BLAISE (1966) and Jean Valere's THE SCARLET LADY (1969). She would continue to impress throughout the seventies, often in comedies but also in some heavy dramatic roles including a turn for Bunuel, before she would reunite with the maestro for THE MYSTERY OF OBERWALD in 1981.

She would sadly retire from the screen after starring in her own SECRET SCANDAL in 1989. She leaves behind a legacy of some of the most memorable film roles in cinema history. I find her work to be increasingly resonate and I think her influence hasn't accurately been measured. Antonioni was one of the great originals in cinema history but I'm sure even he would have admitted that his films would not have been the same without this remarkable women and her haunted, penetrating stare.


cinebeats said...

I adore this woman! I must confess that I was really peeved at Bergman after I read his scathing comment about Antonioni's films recently shared after his death, but mostly his nasty remark about Vitti being a horrible actress is what really pissed me off since she's one of my favorites.

I love her stunning unconventional beauty and the woman can say so much with her eyes and body. She can be funny as well as evoke extreme emotions in dramatic work and that is not easy. She's an amazing talent.

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks Kimberly,
Obviously I agree with you completely. I have always thought she was one of cinema's most extraordinary figures.
I just read those Bergman comments yesterday and was highly disturbed by them. They were so bitter and his comments towards Vitti were especially cold. I admire the man and his films a lot but it really fuled my urge to pull out all the stops in my Michelangelo tribute, a director who has meant so much more to me than Bergman (and with the esception of Truffaut anyone else as well).
Thanks again for the comments...and you're right, on top of everything else she is funny as well.

Rogue Spy 007 said...

I love Monica Vitti. She is absolutely gorgeous. She's like a divine being come down from Mt. Olympus. I adored her and Alain Delon, the epitome of male beauty, together as a couple. They were breathtaking together in L'Eclisse. I also loved her in Modesty Blaise. She was a sexy and talented actress (with a wide range of emotions).

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks Keith,
Delon and Vitti in that film together are just breathtaking. I really appreciate hearing some positive words for her, I think she is just so fantastic...thanks for commenting

colinr said...

Monica Vitti was absolutely perfect in the two films by Antonioni I've had the chance to see so far, L'Avventura and L'Eclisse.

I also liked her short scene in Bunuel's Phantom of Liberty - I wonder if that scene of Vitti's character and her husband getting upset over seeing photographs their child had been given of various pieces of architecture was a sly nod to Antonioni and how important the locations of his films were in creating unease in the characters placed in them?

I'm looking eagerly forward to the day when I get the chance to see Red Desert, but sadly I don't think it is going to be any time soon. At least for now I can content myself with knowing that The Passenger has finally been released.

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks Colin,
That's a good question about the Buneul. It's been a long time since I have seen it so I need to give it another look. Hopefully "Red Desert" will get a re-release soon as it is criminal that it is currently so hard to find...