on August 18, 2015
Screened this last night, realizing after buying the Taschen book on the Complete Antonioni (a nice book
but spotted some glaring typos!), that I still hadn't seen his final two films, had to rectify that.
This Criterion does have a nice booklet as always, the Taschen book helps complete the director's
viewpoint of what he was trying to achieve here, more or less, but the disc doesn't offer any
extras otherwise. The print and sound are really outstanding, however, as usual.
My take on this film is that it's a solid Antonioni effort, but not quite up there with his finest,
although it comes quite close, at times. Even so, it's still 1000x better than lesser efforts
like the breathtaking but muddled and rather badly dated Zabriskie Point.
I haven't yet seen Il Grido, nor the made-for-Italian-TV (originally) drama Mystery of Oberwald,
with Monica Vitti from 1980, just a few years ahead of this "return to form" effort.
I loved Identification of a Woman, it just looks gorgeous and the locations alone are worth
the price of admission, as usual for one of his films.
Identification of a Woman boasts many of the classic Antonioni themes, obsessions, and concerns, mysteries, red-herrings, "dead-ends," fraught romance, love lost, love gained (and then lost again), haunted characters, sex, characters going "missing" and then
suddenly turning up, etc. Our protagonist, Niccolo, the director (haunted by his divorce and
seeking his "muse" and the "face" of his next, as yet unformed, film), plays around with different women but elicits our sympathies,
since he's divorced (although he may have driven his ex away, something his sister alludes
to in one scene), on the rebound, and is dating a young model/actress who he is mysteriously
warned away (in an ice-cream parlor, no less)
from by some semi-thug for unknown reasons, and she's running in the upper-echelon
high society of Rome for various reasons, while his later love interest, the theater actress,
seemingly doesn't, and lives a more common life, but is no less complex.
Of course, nobody in the film is emotionally or sexually quite satisfied, or knows what they truly desire,
or are utterly conflicted, or all of the above. So this is standard Antonioni territory!
I won't say any more, or risk giving away the film's many secrets, this really should be
left to the first-time viewer, as with any of his films.
The soundtrack matches the 1982 origin and setting(s), with standout music from the likes of Tangerine Dream, Steve
Hillage, and even the mighty new wave popsters OMD (key song of theirs "Souvenir", one of
my personal favorites but then I love all of their stuff) in a key love scene with "our director"
and Mavi, his initial girlfriend that slips away later from his grasp, and he goes looking for,
as he does for the apparent unseen villain who he suspects wants him out of the way,
and whom he suspects of other subterfuge related to his sister, a top local gynecologist
whose advancement is suddenly derailed, for no good reason.
It's intriguing that even though Antonioni chooses then-contemporary pop/rock and ambient new wave
music and artists for most of the film's soundtrack, Identification of a Woman
doesn't at all seem dated, or utterly trapped in the early 1980s. It, like all of his best films, seems
to exist in its/their own unique niche, or time-warp, alternate reality, or extra-terrestrial dimension,
yet still all being grounded on Earth and in some version of our own version of 20th
Yet, inexplicable things occur, we never grasp all of the goings-on (as
particularly with Blow-Up or L'Avventura), and most delightfully, Antonioni never explains
everything or spells it all out for the viewer. Yet I feel, with most of his films, that he
affects this so masterfully, and breathtakingly, that one is never frustrated by this.
When Antonioni is firing on all cylinders, as mainly he is here, you surrender to his
dark daydreams and just get on for the ride. Like Bergman, Resnais, or Kubrick, these
films beg to be viewed multiple times, you cannot appreciate more than small
percentages of the full content/revelations in one viewing. This later Antonioni
puzzle is no exception.
To summarize, the film is, even though not as earth-shatteringly great as something
like L'Eclisse, The Passenger, La Notte, or L'Avventura, an atmospheric, dense,
and emotionally complex journey through and to various far flung places,
including the lagoons of Venice, a setting that, in Antonioni's hands, becomes
at once both romantic and utterly anti-romantic. Only a consummate master
like Antonioni could quite pull this off convincingly, and does.
Even when the protagonist starts truly suspecting that his first lady-love, Mavi, is cheating on him
with another suitor, possibly or probably the unnamed and unseen threatening
"thug" or whomever, Antonioni, in true form, even utterly subverts the viewer's
expectations, and we kind of have the rug pulled out from under us,
as is often the case with the best of his films, and no less so here,
at least in that particular instance/story-arc. The "night ride in the fog"
sequence (the director and Mavi heading to his country rented villa,
above an old Roman settlement) is a masterpiece of nearly "weird fiction"
bizarre suspense: nothing really happens, and yet everything.
All the tensions of the film and characters comes to a boiling point here.
It's truly a sequence worthy of a Robert Aickman story or whatever,
who was a British master of "weird/strange" suspense stories,
wherein there's almost never any solid resolution, payoff,
and NOTHING is truly what it seems. It's too bad Antonioni
and Aickman couldn't have collaborated on a film together
at some stage (or having Antonioni adapting some of Aickman's
tales: his darkly suspenseful anti-romantic masterpiece,
"Never Visit Venice" would have been one of my top choices),
I think that would truly have been something to behold.
If Wim Wenders is listening, let's have at it!!
This film, like all of his efforts, requires sitting and really paying full attention, but if one does, it will absolutely
reap great rewards. I don't know about his final effort, Beyond The Clouds (realized
as it was, with the help of Wim Wenders, partially due to Antonioni's frail
health at that time), which is also still one of the few of his films I haven't
yet seen, but I have a strong feeling that Identification of a Woman will
stand as the "true" final great Antonioni film, given it's the penultimate one
he directed wherein he was truly still at the captain's helm for or, at the gondola's helm, as it
were. It's just as assured and breathtakingly gorgeous as any of his previous films.