Quick-Thoughts: Michelangelo Antonioni‘s Blow-Up (1966)

Michelangelo Antonioni Marathon Part V of V

Blow-Up IS the original The Conversation

EXCEPT, despite their similar premises, the two have vastly different thematic goals. Blow-Up feels like a Nicolas Roeg plot trapped inside of an Antonioni-directed and motivated motion picture. The film is essentially a deep-seeded metaphor for how we treat art, attempting to make it appear to ourselves like something as big as reality, if not, bigger than it — hence the movie’s title “Blow-Up”. Thomas is a narcissistic photographer who’s daily work involves taking pictures of beautiful models and bailing out on many, only then to find himself wandering and experimenting with his environment to acquire quality in his art.

Desperation for quality or meaning can sometimes lead us into becoming easier to manipulate. Thomas, exhausted by his artistic journey to reach satisfaction — taking up nearly the entire first half of the movie and for valid reason — , suddenly begins having suspicions in the work he had just taken, believing to have struck gold. Being as vague as possible to not give away spoilers, this causes him to turn a blind eye to the law and others, yet, pull all headspace into his creative ambitions, putting himself through a confusing obsession to take advantage of this moment in his career, a moment that could justify his divine impact to the real world through this lust for art. 

Blow-Up is the pretentious nature of the artist or the interpreter, ladies and gentlemen. We’re all just so dramatic with what we create, including myself… and this review!

Verdict: A-

Michelangelo Antonioni Ranked

“Blow-Up” is now available to stream on HBO Max.

Quick-Thoughts: Michelangelo Antonioni‘s Red Desert (1964)

Michelangelo Antonioni Marathon Part IV of V

Red Desert feels like a precursor to what occurs in The Passenger (1975), or maybe just a more explanatory version of it. Hmm… it could be the original Safe (1995) too. 

Michelangelo Antonioni’s depiction of mental illness feels quite genuine in this, and that’s why I had the need to mention the two other movies above, both of which have portrayed an unknown depression for the surrounding world in a mysteriously relatable way. After surviving a car crash, resulting in a month of hospitalization, Giuliana begins convincing herself that happiness must lie in new ground, ground that is exotic, ground that doesn’t exist among the given societal and technological facets of humanity. She is looking for peace in the abstract world, as it seems to be the only thing that can cure an abstract placement of her undefinable sorrow. 

Red Desert suggests that our cries for help can barely be understood by others in a situation like Giuliana’s, and it’s up to us alone to contrive a cure for our discomfort with Earth’s modern, still and shallow environment; the dejection is all in our head, and a reliance on battling the head is the closest strategy to removing a surreal strain of illness. Antonioni admittedly goes on to enhance these ideas to masterful levels in, as mentioned before, his later feature-length The Passenger, but I’m more content that this pre-attempt exists rather than disappointed that it happens to be a couple levels below the director’s other projects.

Verdict: B+

Michelangelo Antonioni Ranked

“Red Desert” is now available to stream on The Criterion Channel.

Quick-Thoughts: Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’Eclisse (1962)

Michelangelo Antonioni Marathon Part III of V

Okay, Vittoria kinda deserved this existential crisis after her blackface incident. Serves her right.

Does loss of material bring us back to an emotional state? Do we become sympathetic humans again, only when we are woken up by the sheer fact of failure? Has love only become a sort of “plan B” to our species rather than an “A” in our search for greed? For me, L’Eclisse attempts to capture this grain of atmosphere just a BIT too tediously to be completely perfect, bogging down the pacing of the movie at times; it does, however, give us a more than crystal clear picture of what Antonioni is trying to paint: a world continuously escalating in wealth concerns yet dwindling in human connection, between family, friends, lovers, foes, you name it. We’re becoming less of life and more of the inanimate. 

Verdict: A-

Michelangelo Antonioni Ranked

“L’Eclisse” is now available to stream on The Criterion Channel.

Quick-Thoughts: Michelangelo Antonioni’s La Notte (1961)

Michelangelo Antonioni Marathon Part II of V

“Composition” must be Michelangelo Antonioni’s middle name cause holy s**t chill, dude! The film geek inside of me can only take so much of your visual precision!

Without debate, one of the greatest-looking films I’ve ever seen in my entire life, La Notte investigates a married couple too afraid to face the reality of their deceased love for each other. We follow the two’s anxious day as they wait for the results of a friend who is dying in a hospital. As if the situation wasn’t awkward enough already, Antonioni decides to have their relational experiments occur during this very time frame, out in full-view public as the husband searches for reasons to fall for his wife again by scandalously seducing other women, while the wife paradoxically looks for reasons to no longer care for her husband through encounters with other men.

I can understand why this seems to be the favorite of Antonioni’s career, as its narrative is very easy to follow and not polarized by ambiguity; the movie seems to be quite bold in what it wants its audience to compute. We’re given plenty visual incidents of the two’s behavior when it comes to how they interact with and react to other people, and it leaves us determining which pieces are undeniable evidence of their dead-air romantic connection, which pieces reveal each other’s desires in a lover, and which pieces are information needed to figure out why they won’t split apart despite said circumstances.

La Notte pulls a very anti-The Master move on us. Instead of showing us the equality of the teacher and the student, it discloses the inequality of the teacher and the student, mainly because the student(s) in this situation do(es)n’t learn from their teacher(s). Giovanni is a husband who seems to only be married to Lidia so that she can be the stereotypical wife that’s there to look… “wifey”… in the presence of his writing career and work partners. Lidia lives in Giovanni’s affairs rather than both of each other’s, and this unfair exchange in support is what seems to be the dilemma of their love. Lidia doesn’t get anything worthwhile out of this bond because she innately doesn’t like to discover herself, and by nature, this causes Giovanni’s conditioned spotlight in the relationship to become tedious for him. The inability to confront these matters encourages Giovanni to continue cheating, and Lidia to continue sorrowing. Why they don’t break-up is below reason; it’s of social integrity, laziness, and pity, a kind of pity where they couldn’t bear to face that their once long-lived love was forever gone. 

Umm… Happy Valentine’s Day… again, my lovely followers! 

Verdict: A+

My Favorite Movies of All-Time, Michelangelo Antonioni Ranked

“La Notte” is now available to stream on The Criterion Channel.

Quick-Thoughts: Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’Avventura (1960)

Michelangelo Antonioni Marathon Part I of V

You must become the new before you can become the old. Seems obvious, right? If you cannot keep up with love, if you cannot conserve love, humanity sees you as strictly space. Like the film suggests, in “10-20 years” anything can become a ghost: a person, a place, a memory, the definition of what it had been to others dies and dies with them unless it becomes redefined through a means of secondary purpose, of secondary perspective or use by another. Existence is just a competition for relevancy.

“It’s torture being apart. Really. It’s difficult keeping a relationship going with one person here and the other there. But it’s convenient because you can imagine anything you like. Do you see? Whereas when somebody’s right in front of you, that’s all you get. Know what I mean?”

Anna fatigued her life away by associating her reality with failure. The seclusion of herself from people like her fiancé became her euphoria, her way of treating existence. Yet, this introversion towards society became the death of her. One day, she meets up with her friends on a remote island and suddenly vanishes from the face of the Earth. Her desire was answered…

This mysterious disappearance of her’s satirically fills a role for her best friend (Claudia) and even her lousy lover (Sandro) who she’s been emotionally detaching from for quite some time. The guilt that results from her departure in both Claudia and Sandro appears as an afterthought that bills the mood for the rest of L’Avventura, popping up to be dealt with by these main characters only when convenient. Claudia falls romantically for Anna’s lover whenever she doesn’t sense the biblical deja vu presence of Anna and Sandro searches for his presumably “dead” lover to only provoke that of Claudia’s interest in him. Love was replaced by love, all as a result from our inflating egotism, a fear of becoming the old such as dear Anna had and the mental wave that accomplished it for her. These three people and their supporting counterparts may live bourgeoisie lifestyles, but they feel no more morally put together, no more psychologically superior than the rest of us — and they’re beginning to finally realize that. It’s the social struggle vs. the anti-social struggle, and how the two bridge and play havoc. 

All you need is a delicate artifact, some old mission bells, an ink spill, or something of that matter to give Antonioni a visual challenge to connect his themes to metaphors, and he does it near perfect in L’Avventura as far as I’m concerned. We battle with our animal tendencies, our command of raw, natural instinct to a point of blinded-out contradiction. Lust, affairs, the deflection to care, the attraction to move on just to mark an extra territory before our eventual demise, etc.; we are nothing more than the sum of a biological code that conflictingly wants us to be something “better” than just that, and our invention and power abuse of the “love” construct is the greatest proof of it. Umm, happy Valentine’s Day, readers? Hehe? *sigh*

But s**t, someone set up Antonioni and Wong Kar-wai on a date, ironically though, haha.

Verdict: A

My Favorite Movies of All-Time, Michelangelo Antonioni Ranked

“L’Avventura” is now available to stream on The Criterion Channel.

Quick-Thoughts: HBO Max’s Judas and the Black Messiah

Assiduously directed, compositionally sound, and intimidating as hell, Judas and the Black Messiah almost articulates like a reverse BlacKkKlansman, setting the true-story straight regarding a young black man who’s used by the FBI to go undercover as a member of the Black Panther Party, and ultimately sabotage its chairman Fred Hampton and his revolution. What Shaka King has done here is quite formidable, stressing the guilt of a man who put his livelihood over everything else, and the agencies of vice (this notoriously fowl FBI organization) that pressured him into this greed. The story of how manipulation diminished the basic human rights of an army of activists and bystanders, warrants this film as a must-watch alone, so HBO Max users, don’t waste this opportunity to grasp essential historical knowledge. 

At any rate, you gotta at least respect a director who’ll use the minimalist approach of sneaking in long-takes whenever possible — those were clean! 

Verdict: B

2021 Ranked 

“Judas and the Black Messiah” is now available to stream on HBO Max and to watch in select theaters.

Andrei Tarkovsky’s Andrei Rublev (1966) – Faith in the Arts and Faith in God’s Approval of It

Andrei Tarkovsky Marathon Part III of III

Wow, I didn’t expect Andrei Tarkovsky to have this level of scale in him. 

Unquestionably the “epic” of the Russian auteur’s timeless career, Andrei Rublev, its title character of a monk, is a famous painter from the 14th century. The movie here primarily focuses on him while being able to cast an additional plethora of characters and extras to further enhance his journey. Not to mention, the plot is also formatted with an ambitious 7-act structure that jump-cuts to future time periods in Rublev’s life during any unanticipated moment of the movie. There’s also a lot of macabre violence, and a lot of Kurosawa-ish action too? Wait a second, what happened to the slow-poke chintz that I used to know? Are we sure this is a Tarkovsky picture? Well, yes: the film’s embracement of artificial symbolism in a world of realism tells us so. While the material on screen has become more graphic and eventful than that of his future outputs, the poetic risks of it nonetheless feel VERY MUCH “Tarkovsky”.

Faith is tested through a series of trials: the church to God, the denial of God, the “lawful” punishment to God, the disbeliever to the believer, the believer to the disbeliever, the atonement to the purpose, and the art to the purpose. Breaking it down from the start, throughout the movie, Rublev silently questions the actions of the Church. You see it in his repulsion towards how the law kills non-believers, as it makes him wonder what qualifies those of religious power to murder, as it’s a sin. Wouldn’t a loving and understanding God be more concerned that his children didn’t kill than didn’t believe? Does the Church defy God’s wills with misinterpretations, those that Rublev is currently unravelling throughout the film?

This develops Rublev into a more sensitive character. He begins detesting the idea that fear must be implemented to convert others to religious faith. His trust and idea of God becomes varied, as he begins trying to draw himself towards Him more so than being mentally controlled by the immoral acts that he witnesses in societal organizations. Every time he reaches for the heavens, this fixation for religious obligation is usually disrupted by the contradicting occurrences of the material world — like flying a hot air balloon into the sky (escaping to the outer universe!) but, unfortunately, crashing it back down to Earth (our defined reality); reminds me of the opening to this movie!

If God gave Rublev his artistic ability as his purpose, wouldn’t God see fit that he would use it to his fullest ability rather than see him concerned for what the religious institution sees fit for him to do? Hasn’t Rublev’s art (and other’s art) benefited the people? Shouldn’t art therefore be a priority over the self? While this thought process is of reason, there is, nonetheless, a part in this movie where Rublev “gives in” and takes a 15-year atonement (a vow of silence and a pause in his artistic career) to make up for a sin that he had committed in the midst of a social catastrophe. Normally, those who take an atonement are looking for a way to repent their sins in the eyes of the Church, which is then passed onto God and entrance to Heaven. But, again, he does it for “the eyes of the Church”, the very thing the movie has sought to recognize as a contradicting organization, and even subconsciously according to the perspective of Rublev.

Does Rublev’s atonement reward him in the afterlife? Well, like an average Andrei Tarkovsky motif, we in the life of the physical, could never know that. What we do know, and what is to matter before death, is that the art we had created is what rewards. There’s a reason why Tarkovsky dedicates ten whole minutes of this movie to hypnotically slide-show all of Rublev’s survived work because it was the proof that a purpose had been defined through the art he had created, at least, in the physical world, but specifically, a “determined” physical world. The social hardships he experiences in the film that inspires the art is the known pay-off of his existence. What we know in religious contextuality, whether that be where our goodwill or sins guide us to or punish us to after death, can never be weighed confidently from the perspective in our present life, and that’s why art (the will of discovering) seems more favorable to permanently mark into the remainder of humanity than in focus of trying to make it into an eternal afterlife we respectively couldn’t even confess to be 100% real on material ground. 

So in retrospect, this is one elongated movie made just to explain Tarkovsky’s reason for wanting to make movies in the first place: it’s all about enlarging his “definite purpose”. Admittedly, Tarkovsky’s 70s/80s era “contained” and “dream-state” style is definitely more up my alley, but I’d be one hell of a liar if I couldn’t admit that this… this is gold-embedded cinema too. 

Ingmar Bergman, you’ve been officially demoted from being my all-time favorite director now. Andrei Tarkovsky claims the throne for now unless the 50+ (literally) movies I haven’t seen by you can say otherwise down the road. 

Verdict: A

Andrei Tarkovsky Ranked, My All-Time Favorite Movies 

“Andrei Rublev” is now available to stream on The Criterion Channel.

Quick-Thoughts: Andrei Tarkovsky’s Ivan’s Childhood (1962)

Andrei Tarkovsky Marathon Part II of III

Finally, the good version of Jojo Rabbit.

Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1962 debut Ivan’s Childhood operates its existence of World War II through a psychosis reality. Ivan, a young 12-year-old Russian spy, is depicted as on the surface, an ambitious and self-confident individual. Yet, he is disrupted by an imaginative piece in another part of his brain that emits these phenomenons which could either be dreams, memories or something more cumulative — it’s never specified intentionally. What is palpable, however, is that these ideas swarming around in Ivan’s head are those of a desire for peace, a wish for return, despite that the consciousness of his mind is imprisoned with this grueling thirst for vengeance.

On a visual level, this film goes through the roof when it comes to war dramas. Tarkovsky’s seamless blend of his unfamiliar handheld shots — which shine especially in the “dream” sequences — and his usual tender, sedated camerawork are a committed pair that help transpire the state of war into a more surrealist environment. The black-and-white aesthetic in Tarkovsky’s feature-length debut compliments the intentional shadow and profusely very dark/light imagery that’s often used as a heavy weight to a lot of the artistic value in the cinematography. The score prevails, as well, truly bringing the “thriller” side of the narrative to life. Tarkovsky has essentially personified a wholly rotten atmosphere that desperately requires the comfort of others, something Ivan stubbornly believes he doesn’t have but subconsciously knows he needs. To be completely masculine in a situation like this is impossible, as Tarkovsky suggests, and it shouldn’t be strived for even as a protective suit from death. The binding of interaction is all the clarity we have left when in the s**t of war. 

The conscious tells minimal of what we truly desire but the subconscious can sometimes tell us all. War is destined to wipe the front-value innocence of any child away; what’s barely left of Ivan’s seems to be of these unconscious little grasps or snippets of a childhood most would call ideal. In this state though, in a time of international violence, Ivan’s consciousness was unfortunately more practical than the preferability of Ivan’s subconsciousness. Ivan was, in a way, mature because of this, but not as a benefit, more like a damnation.

Verdict: A

Andrei Tarkovsky Ranked, My All-Time Favorite Movies

“Ivan’s Childhood” is now available to stream on The Criterion Channel.

Quick-Thoughts: Andrei Tarkovsky’s The Steamroller and the Violin (1961)

Andrei Tarkovsky Part I of III

I have seen Andrei Tarkovsky’s last five projects from his legendary yet compact filmography, but not his first five ones — 3 shorts and 2 feature-lengths. Considering this fella has been on my favorite director’s list for quite some time, I’ve become fed up with living in the guilt of not seeing this and the two famously praised movies of the auteur’s earlier career. So here we are.

Wow, even in 1961, before making any feature-lengths, Tarkovsky had an uncanny knack for A-1 compositions and silky camera movements. It doesn’t do any harm too that the color placement and pallet in this are just naturally gentle on the eyes, as well. Yet, the story of The Steamroller and the Violin is pretty “whatever”, finding itself in the catalog of your standard “the POWER of a bond between an older stranger and a younger stranger” arc. The connection that these two characters make just kind of comes out of nowhere too, and I get that this is a short, but c’mon, we all know you pulled this cute little plot straight out of your ass, Tarkovsky, just so that you could make something to show off your unique style of visual storytelling. Still, I can’t deny that it‘s conciliating to watch. 

Verdict: B-

A Philosophical Detour (Andrei Tarkovsky Ranked)

“The Steamroller and the Violin” is now available to stream on The Criterion Channel.

Quick-Thoughts: Alain Resnais’s Last Year at Marienbad (1961)

Alain Resnais Marathon Part III of III

Can we get a “W” in the chat for the organ music in this?

I haven’t seen a movie this surreal since I saw Luis Buñuel’s The Exterminating Angel nearly a year ago. Unlike Bunuel though, Alain Resnais takes a strict “horror” approach to his locationally contained piece of familiar yet reshapable hallways and rooms. Last Year at Marienbad is essentially a lover’s faded memory of a one night affair between him and his supposed female partner in crime. This premise has allowed the film to use the rare and often detested use of “repetition” as a rare occasion of fabricating an advantage, however, in that each repeated recollection of the same scene is slightly altered with new camera angles, new camera shots, new context, new dialogue, slightly changed dialogue, new tones or new characters, which visually and dialectically mimics the trial and error process of our wills to hold onto an important memory.

Sometimes we sugarcode or dramatize our brain storage with desires, but it deludes us from reality and replaces it with questions or contradictions, a never-ending vault of them that can rarely be answered as we grow older and older, and review our memory over and over again, wearing it out like a solid material. From there on out, we begin phasing forward into even more confusion, punishing ourselves with the moral dilemmas of how you may have immaturely handled this failed attempt at an ongoing romantic connection, trying to hide ourselves from objective truths with subjective comforts as we carnally attempt to ignore the mistakes and sins that could’ve led to the termination of such an allusive love affair. The complexity of a connection you once understood has become unraveled again and again in mortifying tangles, to a point where maybe it was never love to begin with; maybe it was always one-sided, between either you or between either her.

I love how nearly every scene in this movie lays itself out like a puzzle that you need to hastily figure out in time before it ends, but is than followed up by the next scene which is formatted to completely contradict what you had discovered or thought you had understood beforehand — it plays completely well with mental realism and how we tend to process personal information too emotionally despite being in the light of facts. Ben Shapiro would’ve adored this movie if he actually had good taste in art. 

Another way of interpreting Last Year at Marienbad, to add to the spirit of “surrealism”, is to think of our characters as spirits of a haunted hotel — which the atmosphere of the movie ingeniously makes it feel as if that were the case — trying to recollect emotion, trapped in a glitchy “groundhog day” sort of situation. Allowing disinterests to completely control a memory seems impossible even for a spiritual, all great and wise being, as the tiresome and agonizing chastise of perfect iterations have the ironic ability to force you to want to deceitfully revise the plot of your very own once pondered over experience. 

Totally immature timing to end this review off on, BUT, I had to mention that the main dude in this movie totally looks like Christopher Nolan and Quentin Tarantino’s lovechild! I don’t know why, I just kind of found that to be absurdly funny. Umm… ahem… very serious movie though, yes, indeed… 

Verdict: A

My All-Time Favorite Movies, The French New Wave Ranked

“Last Year at Marienbad” is now available to stream on Kanopy.