Sunday, 31 July 2011

Scenes from "Al di là delle Nuvole" [1995 Italy, France, Germany]

"Al di là delle Nuvole" [Eng. Title: Beyond the Clouds] was Michelangelo Antonioni's final full-length feature, a personal film made from a short story collection penned by himself. By this time, the great man was partially paralysed after a stroke and couldn't speak. That of course didn't stop him from making another late gem. His friend Wim Wenders co-directed it, and what a collaboration it turned out to be..!

The film isn't a typical Antonioni in some respects - apart from the obvious reason of another creative mind working on it. The manner in which he portrays women is different from his normal style. The women here appear to have been plucked from fantasy, vulnerable, sensuous, and too soft. There's a reason however - it was done with the purpose of exploring themes related to love and happiness - what are people trying to seek in its quest, is it their own ego they're trying to satisfy - is it ultimately selfish to want to possess? The pieces start falling in place as we sit through each story. But there is no mistaking his trademark imprint noticeable throughout the film, even more so in the final segment, which I think is the best of the lot.

The film starts off with a film director (played by John Malkovich), taking a break between projects to 'see' and 'collect' imagery. He visits a mist-shrouded Ferrara, alluding to Antonioni's own nostalgic view of the place and narrates the first story, of Silvano and Carmen, before moving on to France where he connects the other tales. There's plenty in the film not only for fans of both Wenders and Antonioni, but also lovers of exquisite cinema in general - and plenty of nudity as well. The cinematography is breathtaking, and the great attention to detail, be it lighting, art direction, costumes or make-up, is only to be expected if two of Europe's finest collaborate. The soundtrack is thoughtfully chosen, and the editing is exemplary, done under the watchful eye of Antonioni himself. There is also a surprise reunion of sorts when Marcello Mastroianni and Jeanne Moreau turn-up in the last segment - they're working together with Antonioni after more than thirty years, the previous one being another Antonioni masterpiece, "La Notte". All in all, this is a sumptuous film full of visual beauty and poetry, and therefore Highly Recommended Viewing..!

It is necessary to mention something about the 'Making of' documentary that accompanies the DVD, made by Antonioni's wife Enrica herself. The 50 minute feature is as riveting as the main film itself - with some precious footage of the shoot, and importantly parts of Antonioni's original prose narrated through voice-over for some of the scenes, which makes one hell of a difference interpreting the film. I recommend everyone to make sure they watch it after the main film.

Amazon DVD Link

Compilation: Inés Sastre, Sophie Marceau, Fanny Ardant and Chiara Caselli
Made from at least five scenes. By the way, the window is used a frequent metaphor throughout the film

Inés Sastre, Sophie Marceau, Fanny Ardant and Chiara Caselli in Al di là delle Nuvole

Scene Guide
  • Silvano, passing through Ferrara, falls in love with school teacher Carmen staying in the same bed and breakfast hotel as he. Carmen expected him to come to her room that night, he doesn't, and she had to leave the following day, and they meet again three years later at a cinema. they had apparently been in love all the time. She invites him to her house. What happens next is beautifully illustrated in this dialogue-less scene. Carmen is played by delectable Spanish beauty Inés Sastre.
  • The roving director-protagonist bumps into a boutique shop girl at an off-season beach resort, and barely conceals his desire for her. Despite her warning him that she had murdered her father a year ago (by stabbing him twelve times), he's unfazed and they end up in bed. While love of an ethereal kind is the undercurrent in the previous scene, it is plain physical here. The girl of course is played by legendary French beauty Sophie Marceau.
  • No nudity but necessary in the context of the next scene. A drunk Patricia questions her husband whether he spent the night before with his mistress. Patricia is intelligent enough to look through his lie, but is hopelessly in love, and is willing to take his word that he'd seen the last of the other woman. Fanny Ardant plays Patricia impeccably - what a fine actress she is..!
  • The mistress is angry when she learns that he slept with his wife (out of pity, he says) - but all is short-lived in this sexy scene as the guy feasts on her greedily. The mistress is played by ragazza dolce e deliziosa Chiara Caselli.
  • The director's wandering eye takes us past a window where a couple are getting ready to get started. Actress name remains a mystery.


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