Friday, August 3, 2007
1995's BEYOND THE CLOUDS is not one of Antonioni's more accomplished films but it is a film that remains a remarkable feat simply in that it exists at all.
Michelangelo suffered a very debilitating stroke in 1985 that robbed him of his speech and left him partially paralyzed. Since he was already 73 when this happened it appeared a sure thing that 1982's IDENTIFICATION OF A WOMAN would indeed be his final film and yet Michelangelo continued on and managed to make three short films in the decade following his stroke.
When word first came down that Antonioni was indeed mounting a major new film in the mid nineties the excitement was overwhelming to me, as well as many other film fans and critics. Shot on location in four Italian and French cities with a truly astonishing cast including Sophie Marceau, Irene Jacob, Fanny Ardant, Chiara Caselli, Vincent Perez, Marcello Mastroinanni and Jeanne Moreau, BEYOND THE CLOUDS would have been major project for any director but considering Michelangelo was in his mid eighties and not able to speak the film seemed like a miracle.
Assisting Antonioni was one of his biggest followers, German born Wim Wenders. Wender's invaluable book about the making of the film, MY TIME WITH ANTONIONI, is a great recourse for fans of Michelangelo. Wender's shot much of the footage involving insufferable John Malkovich narration that acted as a connection between Antonioni's elegiac and erotic sections. Antonioni wisely cut most of Wender's footage out of the film but the parts that do remain remain the weakest sections of BEYOND THE CLOUDS and I have always thought a simple anthology film with just Antonioni's footage would have worked much better. Still it is to Wender's credit that he was on the set and did assist the frail director in crafting his final major production.
The segments in BEYOND THE CLOUDS were based on pieces from Antonioni's great short story collection, BOWLING ALLEY ON THE TIMBER, but BEYOND THE CLOUDS really isn't about plotting or storyline. The joy of the film is in the visuals, with Michelangelo's amazing compositional abilities still in full power. Talented cinematographer Alfio Contini, who had shot ZABRISKIE POINT back in 1970, provides the film's striking look and it melds in perfectly with Antonioni's unmistakable direction and camera work.
BEYOND THE CLOUDS is one of the most erotic films Michelangelo ever shot and his cast, featuring some of the most beautiful women on the planet, is awesome to see. Sophie Marceau is particularly lovely in this film and Antonioni shoots her as if it might be the last time he will be able to photograph the female face and form. Irene Jacob, who shot this just after her miraculous turn in Kieslowski's RED, gives the film its emotional and spiritual center and her segment is a lovely reminder of some of the master's greatest works.
The film's most nostalgic moment comes in the scene where Mastroianni and Moreau are seen together again. Seeing the two of these greats together being photographed by Antonioni remains a powerful image and provides a fitting coda to Antonioni's awesome career.
BEYOND THE CLOUDS would open to mixed reviews and it is a flawed and slightly disconnected film. That doesn't make it any less miraculous though and in its greatest moments, such as Marceau through Antonioni's camera, it is a beautiful and moving film made by a great artist knowing he is making one of his final works.