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Michelangelo Antonioni

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Michelangelo Antonioni
Portrait photograph
Born(1912-09-29)29 September 1912
Died30 July 2007(2007-07-30) (aged 94)
Rome, Italy
Alma materUniversity of Bologna
  • Film director
  • screenwriter
  • film editor
  • author
Years active1942–2004
Letizia Balboni
(m. 1942; div. 1954)
(m. 1986)
PartnerMonica Vitti (1960–1970)

Michelangelo Antonioni (/ˌæntniˈni/, Italian: [mikeˈlandʒelo antoˈnjoːni]; 29 September 1912 – 30 July 2007) was an Italian director and filmmaker. He is best known for his "trilogy on modernity and its discontents"[1]L'Avventura (1960), La Notte (1961), and L'Eclisse (1962)—as well as the English-language film Blowup (1966). His films have been described as "enigmatic and intricate mood pieces"[2] that feature elusive plots, striking visual composition, and a preoccupation with modern landscapes.[3] His work substantially influenced subsequent art cinema.[4] Antonioni received numerous awards and nominations throughout his career, being the only director to have won the Palme d'Or, the Golden Lion, the Golden Bear and the Golden Leopard.

Early life[edit]

Antonioni was born into a prosperous family of landowners in Ferrara, Emilia Romagna, in northern Italy. He was the son of Elisabetta (née Roncagli) and Ismaele Antonioni.[5] The director explained to Italian film critic Aldo Tassone:

My childhood was a happy one. My mother... was a warm and intelligent woman who had been a labourer in her youth. My father also was a good man. Born into a working-class family, he succeeded in obtaining a comfortable position through evening courses and hard work. My parents gave me free rein to do what I wanted: with my brother, we spent most of our time playing outside with friends. Curiously enough, our friends were invariably proletarian and poor. The poor still existed at that time, you recognized them by their clothes. But even in the way they wore their clothes, there was a fantasy, a frankness that made me prefer them to boys of bourgeois families. I always had sympathy for young women of working-class families, even later when I attended university: they were more authentic and spontaneous.[6]

— Michelangelo Antonioni

As a child, Antonioni was fond of drawing and music. A precocious violinist, he gave his first concert at the age of nine. Although he abandoned the violin with the discovery of cinema in his teens, drawing would remain a lifelong passion. "I have never drawn, even as a child, either puppets or silhouettes but rather facades of houses and gates. One of my favourite games consisted of organizing towns. Ignorant in architecture, I constructed buildings and streets crammed with little figures. I invented stories for them. These childhood happenings—I was eleven years old—were like little films."[7]

Upon graduation from the University of Bologna with a degree in economics, he started writing for the local Ferrara newspaper Il Corriere Padano in 1935 as a film journalist.

In 1940, Antonioni moved to Rome, where he worked for Cinema, the official Fascist film magazine edited by Vittorio Mussolini. However, Antonioni was fired a few months afterwards. Later that year, he enrolled at the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia to study film technique but left after three months. He was subsequently drafted into the army. During the war, Antonioni survived being condemned to death as a member of the Italian Resistance.[8]


Early film work[edit]

In 1942, Antonioni co-wrote A Pilot Returns with Roberto Rossellini and worked as assistant director on Enrico Fulchignoni's I due Foscari. In 1943, he travelled to France to assist Marcel Carné on Les visiteurs du soir and began a series of short films with Gente del Po (1943), a story of poor fishermen of the Po valley. When Rome was liberated by the Allies, the film stock was transferred to the Fascist "Republic of Salò" and could not be recovered and edited until 1947. The complete footage was never retrieved. These films were neorealist in style, semi-documentary studies of the lives of working class people.[9]

However, Antonioni's first full-length feature film Cronaca di un amore (1950) broke away from neorealism by depicting the middle classes. He continued to do so in a series of other films: I vinti ("The Vanquished", 1952), a trio of stories, each set in a different country (France, Italy and England), about juvenile delinquency; La signora senza camelie (The Lady Without Camellias, 1953) about a young film star and her fall from grace; and Le amiche (The Girlfriends, 1955) about middle-class women in Turin. Il grido (The Outcry, 1957) was a return to working class stories, depicting a factory worker and his daughter. Each of these stories is about social alienation.[9]

International recognition[edit]

In Le Amiche (1955), Antonioni experimented with a radical new style: instead of a conventional narrative, he presented a series of apparently disconnected events, and used long takes as part of his style.[9] Antonioni returned to their use in L'avventura (1960), which became his first international success. At the Cannes Film Festival it received a mixture of cheers[10] and boos,[11] but was popular in art house cinemas around the world. La notte (1961), starring Jeanne Moreau and Marcello Mastroianni, and L'Eclisse (1962), starring Alain Delon and Monica Vitti, followed L'avventura. These three films are referred to as a trilogy because they are stylistically similar and concerned with the alienation of people in the modern world.[12][13][14] La notte won the Golden Bear award at the 11th Berlin International Film Festival,[15] His first color film, Il deserto rosso (The Red Desert, 1964), deals with similar themes, and is sometimes considered the fourth film of the "trilogy".[1] All these films star Monica Vitti, his lover during that period.

Antonioni then signed a deal with producer Carlo Ponti that would allow artistic freedom on three films in English to be released by MGM. The first, Blowup (1966),[16] set in Swinging London, was a 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. Although it dealt with the challenging theme of the impossibility of objective standards, and the ever-doubtable truth of memory, it was a successful and popular hit with audiences, perhaps helped by its sex scenes, which were explicit for the time. It starred David Hemmings and Vanessa Redgrave. The second film was Zabriskie Point (1970), his first set in America and with a counterculture theme. The soundtrack featured music from Pink Floyd (who wrote new music specifically for the film), the Grateful Dead and the Rolling Stones. However, its release was a critical and commercial failure. The third, The Passenger (1975), starring Jack Nicholson and Maria Schneider, received critical praise, but did poorly at the box office. It was out of circulation for years, but re-released for a limited theatrical run in October 2005, and released on DVD.

In 1966, Antonioni drafted a treatment entitled "Technically Sweet", which he later developed into a screenplay with Mark Peploe, Niccolo Tucci, and Tonino Guerra, with plans to begin filming in the early '70s with Jack Nicholson and Maria Schneider. On the verge of production in the Amazon jungle, the producer, Carlo Ponti, suddenly withdrew support and the project was abandoned, with Nicholson and Schneider going forward to star in The Passenger.[17] In 2008, "Technically Sweet", became an international group exhibition curated by Copenhagen-based artists Yvette Brackman and Maria Finn, in which the creations of artists, working in multiple mediums and based on Antonioni's manuscript, were displayed in New York.[18] One of these was the short film "Sweet Ruin", directed by Elisabeth Subrin and starring Gaby Hoffmann.[19] Antonioni's widow Enrica and director André Ristum announced plans to produce a film based on the screenplay, with filming in Brazil and Sardinia to begin in 2023.[20][needs update]

In 1972, Antonioni was invited by the Mao government of the China to visit the country to film the achievements of the Cultural Revolution.[21]: 13  He made the documentary, Chung Kuo, Cina, but it was strongly condemned by the Chinese authorities as "anti-Chinese" and "anti-communist".[22] The documentary had its first showing in China on 25 November 2004, in Beijing, with a film festival hosted by the Beijing Film Academy to honour the works of Antonioni. The film is now well-regarded by Chinese audiences, particularly by people who lived during the Cultural Revolution, for its depictions of a simpler life.[21]: 14 

Later career[edit]

Antonioni in the 2000s

In 1980, Antonioni directed Il mistero di Oberwald (The Mystery of Oberwald), based on Jean Cocteau's play, L'Aigle à deux têtes (The Eagle With Two Heads). Featuring Monica Vitti in the lead, the film delves into an experimental approach to color enhancement through electronic treatment. The process involves initially capturing the footage on video and transferring it to 35mm film stock during post-production.

Identificazione di una donna ("Identification of a Woman",) a 1982 film shot in Italy, explores the recurring themes found in his Italian trilogy. In 1985, Antonioni suffered a stroke that left him aphasic and partly paralyzed. Despite his incapacity to speak or write, Antonioni continued to direct films including Beyond the Clouds (1995), for which Wim Wenders was hired as a back-up director to shoot various scenes. As Wenders has explained, "without someone else, no film of his would find insurers." During the editing, however, Antonioni rejected almost all of the material filmed by Wenders except for a few short interludes.[23] They shared the FIPRESCI Prize at the Venice Film Festival with Cyclo.

In 1994, he was given an Honorary Academy Award "in recognition of his place as one of cinema's master visual stylists." Presented to him by Jack Nicholson, the statuette was later stolen by burglars and had to be replaced. Previously, Antonioni had received Academy Award nominations for Best Director and Best Screenplay for Blowup (1967).

Antonioni's final film, directed when he was in his 90s, was a segment of the anthology film Eros (2004), entitled Il filo pericoloso delle cose (The Dangerous Thread of Things). The short film's episodes are framed using a series of enigmatic paintings by Antonioni, a luxury sports car that has difficulty negotiating the narrow lanes and archaic stone bridges of the provincial town setting, a bikini-clad women performing a cryptic choreography on a beach, and the song "Michelangelo Antonioni", composed and sung by Caetano Veloso.[24] The film was not well-received internationally. In America, Roger Ebert claimed it was neither erotic nor about eroticism.[25] The U.S. DVD release of the film includes another 2004 short film by Antonioni, Lo sguardo di Michelangelo (The Gaze of Michelangelo).

Antonioni died in Rome, aged 94, on 30 July 2007, the same day as renowned Swedish director, Ingmar Bergman. Antonioni lay in state at City Hall in Rome, where a large screen showed black-and-white footage of him among his film sets and behind-the-scenes. He was buried in his hometown of Ferrara on 2 August 2007.

Style and themes[edit]

It's too simplistic to say—as many people have done—that I am condemning the inhuman industrial world which oppresses the individuals and leads them to neurosis. My intention ... was to translate the poetry of the world, in which even factories can be beautiful. The line and curves of factories and their chimneys can be more beautiful than the outline of trees, which we are already too accustomed to seeing. It is a rich world, alive and serviceable ... There are people who do adapt, and others who can't manage, perhaps because they are too tied to ways of life that are by now out-of-date.

—Antonioni, interviewed about Red Desert (1964).[26]

Critic Richard Brody described Antonioni as "the cinema's exemplary modernist" and one of its "great pictorialists—his images reflect, with a cold enticement, the abstractions that fascinated him."[27] AllMovie stated that "his films—a seminal body of enigmatic and intricate mood pieces—rejected action in favor of contemplation, championing image and design over character and story. Haunted by a sense of instability and impermanence, his work defined a cinema of possibilities."[2] Stephen Dalton of the British Film Institute described Antonioni's influential visual hallmarks as "extremely long takes, striking modern architecture, painterly use of colour, [and] tiny human figures adrift in empty landscapes," noting similarities to the "empty urban dreamscapes" of surrealist painter Giorgio de Chirico.[3] Film historian Virginia Wright Wexman notes the slowness of his camera and the absence of frequent cuts, stating that "he forces our full attention by continuing the shot long after others would cut away."[28] Antonioni is also noted for exploiting colour as a significant expressive element in his later works, especially in Il deserto rosso, his first colour film.[29]

Antonioni's plots were experimental, ambiguous, and elusive, often featuring middle-class characters who suffer from ennui, desperation, or joyless sex.[3] Film historian David Bordwell writes that in Antonioni's films, "Vacations, parties and artistic pursuits are vain efforts to conceal the characters' lack of purpose and emotion. Sexuality is reduced to casual seduction, enterprise to the pursuit of wealth at any cost."[4] The New Yorker wrote that "Antonioni captured a new bourgeois society that shifted from physical to intellectual creation, from matter to abstraction, from things to images, and the crisis of personal identity and self-recognition that resulted," calling his 1960s collaborations with Monica Vitti "a crucial moment in the creation of cinematic modernism."[30] Richard Brody stated that his films explore "the way that new methods of communication—mainly the mass media, but also the abstractions of high-tech industry, architecture, music, politics, and even fashion—have a feedback effect on the educated, white-collar thinkers who create them," but noted that "he wasn't nostalgic about the premodern."[27]

Wexman describes Antonioni's perspective on the world as that of a "postreligious Marxist and existentialist intellectual."[28] 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 recognize as such and yet sustain out of cowardice and sheer laziness [...] We have examined those moral attitudes very carefully, we have dissected them and analyzed them to the point of exhaustion. We have been capable of all this, but we have not been capable of finding new ones."

Nine years later he expressed a similar attitude in an interview, saying that he loathed the word 'morality': "When man becomes reconciled to nature, when space becomes his true background, these words and concepts will have lost their meaning, and we will no longer have to use them."[31] Critic Roland Barthes claimed that Antonioni's approach "is not that of a historian, a politician or a moralist, but rather that of a utopian whose perception is seeking to pinpoint the new world, because he is eager for this world and already wants to be part of it."[32] He added that his art "consists in always leaving the road of meaning open and as if undecided."[32]

Reception and legacy[edit]

Bordwell explains that Antonioni was extremely influential on art films: "More than any other director, he encouraged filmmakers to explore elliptical and open-ended narrative."[4] The Guardian described him as, "in essence, a director of extraordinary sequences," and advised viewers to "forget plotting, characters or dialogue, his import is conveyed in absolutely formal terms."[33]

Film director Akira Kurosawa considered Antonioni one of the most interesting filmmakers.[34] Stanley Kubrick listed La Notte as one of his ten favorite films in a 1963 Poll.[35] Andrei Tarkovsky was deeply influenced by Antonioni, especially for the development of his film Nostalghia. In an interview with Serge Kaganski in 2004, Jean-Luc Godard judges that Antonioni is the filmmaker who has most influenced contemporary cinema. Wim Wenders considered Antonioni as a master and the two collaborated as directors for the film Beyond the Clouds. Miklós Jancsó considers Antonioni as his master. American director Martin Scorsese paid tribute to Antonioni following his death in 2007, stating that his films "posed mysteries—or rather the mystery, of who we are, what we are, to each other, to ourselves, to time. You could say that Antonioni was looking directly at the mysteries of the soul."[3] American directors Francis Ford Coppola and Brian De Palma paid homage to Antonioni in their own films.[3]

Antonioni's spare style and purposeless characters, however, have not received universal acclaim. Ingmar Bergman stated in 2002 that while he considered the Antonioni films Blowup and La notte masterpieces, he found the other films boring and noted that he had never understood why Antonioni was held in such esteem. Orson Welles regretted the Italian director's use of the long take: "I don't like to dwell on things. It's one of the reasons I'm so bored with Antonioni—the belief that, because a shot is good, it's going to get better if you keep looking at it. He gives you a full shot of somebody walking down a road. And you think, 'Well, he's not going to carry that woman all the way up that road.' But he does. And then she leaves and you go on looking at the road after she's gone."[36]

American actor Peter Weller, whom Antonioni directed in Beyond the Clouds, explained in a 1996 interview: "There is no director living except maybe Kurosawa, Bergman, or Antonioni that I would fall down and do anything for. I met Antonioni three years ago in Taormina at a film festival. I introduced myself and told him that I adored his movies, his contributions to film, because he was the first guy who really started making films about the reality of the vacuity between people, the difficulty in traversing this space between lovers in modern day ... and he never gives you an answer, Antonioni—that's the beautiful thing."[37]


Feature films[edit]

Year English title Original title
1950 Story of a Love Affair Cronaca di un amore
1953 The Vanquished I Vinti
1953 The Lady Without Camelias La signora senza camelie
1955 The Girl Friends Le Amiche
1957 The Cry Il Grido
1960 The Adventure L'Avventura
1961 The Night La Notte
1962 The Eclipse L'Eclisse
1964 Red Desert Il Deserto Rosso
1966 Blowup
1970 Zabriskie Point
1972 Chung Kuo, Cina documentary
1975 The Passenger Professione: Reporter
1980 The Mystery of Oberwald Il mistero di Oberwald
1982 Identification of a Woman Identificazione di una donna
1995 Beyond the Clouds Al di là delle nuvole

Short films[edit]

  • Gente del Po (People of the Po Valley, filmed in 1943, released in 1947) – 10 minutes
  • N.U. (Dustmen, 1948) – 11 minutes
  • Oltre l'oblio (1948)
  • Roma-Montevideo (1948)
  • Lies of Love (L'amorosa menzogna, 1949) – 10 minutes
  • Sette canne, un vestito (Seven Reeds, One Suit, 1949) – 10 minutes
  • Bomarzo (1949)
  • Ragazze in bianco (Girls in White, 1949)
  • Superstizione (Superstition, 1949) – 9 minutes
  • La villa dei mostri (The House of Monsters, 1950) – 10 minutes
  • La funivia del Faloria (The Funicular of Mount Faloria, 1950) – 10 minutes
  • Tentato suicido (When Love Fails, 1953) – segment in L'amore in città (Love in the City)
  • Il delitto (April 20, 1962) - segment in Il fiore e la violenza (The Flower and the Violence)
  • Il provino (1965) – segment in I tre volti
  • Inserto girato a Lisca Bianca (1983) – 8 minutes
  • Kumbha Mela (1989) – 18 minutes
  • Roma (Rome, 1989) – segment in 12 registi per 12 città, for the 1990 FIFA World Cup
  • Noto, Mandorli, Vulcano, Stromboli, Carnevale (Volcanoes and Carnival, 1993) – 8 minutes
  • Sicilia (1997) – 9 minutes
  • Lo sguardo di Michelangelo (The Gaze of Michelangelo, 2004) – 15 minutes
  • Il filo pericoloso delle cose (The Dangerous Thread of Things, 2004) – segment in Eros

Awards and honors[edit]



  1. ^ a b Holden, Stephan (4 June 2006). "Antonioni's Nothingness and Beauty". The New York Times. Retrieved 21 May 2012.
  2. ^ a b Ankeny, Jason. "Michelangelo Antonioni". AllMovie. Retrieved 21 May 2012.
  3. ^ a b c d e Dalton, Stephen. "What Antonioni's movies mean in the era of mindfulness and #MeToo". British Film Institute. Retrieved 20 September 2019.
  4. ^ a b c Bordwell & Thompson 2002, pp. 427–428.
  5. ^ "Michelangelo Antonioni, Director". Film Reference. Retrieved 9 May 2016.
  6. ^ Tassone 2002, p. 6.
  7. ^ Tassone 2002, p. 7.
  8. ^ Bachmann, Gideon; Antonioni, Michelangelo (Summer 1975). "Antonioni after China: Art versus Science". Film Quarterly. 28 (4). Berkeley: University of California Press: 26–30. doi:10.2307/1211645. JSTOR 1211645.
  9. ^ a b c Cook 2004, p. 535.
  10. ^ Houston, Penelope (31 July 2007). "Obituary: Michelangelo Antonioni". The Guardian. Retrieved 9 May 2016.
  11. ^ Bradshaw, Peter (27 September 2012). "Michelangelo Antonioni: Centenary of a Forgotten Giant". The Guardian. Retrieved 9 May 2016.
  12. ^ Gazetas 2008, p. 246.
  13. ^ Wakeman 1988, p. 65.
  14. ^ Cameron & Wood 1971, p. 105.
  15. ^ "Berlinale 1961: Prize Winners". Berlinale. Retrieved 23 January 2010.
  16. ^ Tast, Brigitte; Tast, Hans-Jürgen (14 March 2014). "Light Room, Dark Room: Antonioni's Blow-Up und der Traumjob Fotograf". Kulleraugen (in German) (44). ISBN 978-3-88842-044-3.
  17. ^ Chatman 1985, pp. 176–81.
  18. ^ "Technically Sweet, Curated by Yvette Brackman and Maria Finn". Participant Inc. Retrieved 17 November 2022.
  19. ^ "Sweet Ruin". Criterion Channel. Retrieved 17 November 2022.
  20. ^ Hopewell, John (2 March 2021). "Michelangelo Antonioni Screenplay To Be Finally Shot by Gullane, Similar, Andre Ristum". Variety. Penske Media Corporation. Retrieved 17 November 2022.
  21. ^ a b Sorace, Christian (2019). "Aesthetics". Afterlives of Chinese Communism: Political Concepts from Mao to Xi. Acton, Australia: Australian National University Press. ISBN 9781760462499.
  22. ^ Eco & Leefeldt 1977, pp. 8–12.
  23. ^ Wenders 2000, p. 79.
  24. ^ Johnston, Ian (1 August 2006). "We're Not Happy and We Never Will Be". Bright Lights Film Journal. Archived from the original on 20 July 2012. Retrieved 9 May 2016.
  25. ^ Ebert, Roger (8 April 2005). "Eros". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 28 March 2016.
  26. ^ Chatman, Seymour Benjamin, and Paul Duncan. Michelangelo Antonioni: The Investigation. Taschen, 2004, pp. 91–95. ISBN 3-8228-3089-5
  27. ^ a b Brody, Richard. "Michelangelo Antonioni at 100". The New Yorker. Retrieved 20 September 2019.
  28. ^ a b Wexman 2006, p. 312.
  29. ^ Grant 2007, p. 47.
  30. ^ "Antonioni's Coldly Luminous Vision". The New Yorker. Retrieved 20 September 2019.
  31. ^ Samuels, Charles Thomas (29 July 1969). "Interview with Michelangelo Antonioni in Rome". Euro Screenwriters. Archived from the original on 8 April 2016. Retrieved 9 May 2016.
  32. ^ a b Barthes, Roland (October 1980). "Caro Antonioni". Cahiers du Cinéma. 311.
  33. ^ "Michelangelo Antonioni: stately cinematic master or pretentious bore?". The Guardian. 25 August 2015.
  34. ^ Kurosawa 1982, p. 242.
  35. ^ Ciment 2003, p. 34.
  36. ^ Bogdanovich 1992, pp. 103–104.
  37. ^ "From Acting to Directing, Cigars to Jazz, Actor Peter Weller Is a Man of Many Passions". Cigar Aficionado. 1 March 1996. Retrieved 9 May 2016.


Further reading[edit]

  • Antonioni, Michelangelo (1963). Screenplays of Michelangelo Antonioni. New York: Orion Press.
  • Arrowsmith, William (1995). Ted Perry (ed.). Antonioni: The Poet of Images. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-509270-7.
  • Brunette, Peter (1998). The Films of Michelangelo Antonioni. New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-38992-1.
  • Chatman, Seymour (2008). Michelangelo Antonioni: The Complete Films. Köln: Taschen. ISBN 978-3-8228-3030-7.
  • Lyons, Robert Joseph (1976). Michelangelo Antonioni's Neo-Realism: A World View. Dissertation on Film. North Stratford, NH: Ayer Company Publishers. ISBN 978-0-405-07618-3.
  • Pomerance, Murray (2011). Michelangelo Red Antonioni Blue: Eight Reflections on Cinema. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-25870-9.
  • Samuels, Charles Thomas (1972). Encountering Directors. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons. ISBN 978-0-306-80286-7.

External links[edit]