"Beyond the Clouds" emerges as a heartfelt, hard-earned swan song from a director blessed with one of the cinema's most discerning eyes.
For more than half a century, Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni has been using the movie screen as an easel, painting motion pictures of unsurpassed beauty and lyricism. No one who has seen "L'Aventura," Blow Up" or "The Passenger" is likely to forget the uniquely stylized tableaux Antonioni consistently puts on the screen.
Largely absent from filmmaking since suffering a stroke in 1985, Antonioni (with the help of German director Wim Wenders, who co-wrote the screenplay and handled some of the framing sequences) returns to film houses with a carefully textured ode to the intricacies and inscrutabilities of true, lasting love. Unfortunately, it's a brief engagement. "Beyond the Clouds" shows only tonight and tomorrow night at the Charles Theatre.
Based on a series of his short stories, published under the title "That Bowling Alley On the Tiber," this 1995 film (finally released in American theaters), has its flaws, including some overly mannered acting and leadenly existential dialogue ("I fear that we will remain irreparably ourselves."). But it's a work of unquestioned sincerity and beauty, a career summation - in many ways, a love letter to film itself - from one of the most influential directors of our time.
"Beyond the Clouds" offers four separate love stories, all seen through the eyes of a Director (John Malkovich, looking perhaps a little too distracted) contemplating his next film.
The first offers Ines Sastre and Kim Rossi-Stuart as two impossibly beautiful people who meet by chance one day in the streets of Ferrara, Italy (Antonioni's hometown), fall in love, then spend three years fantasizing about what it would be like to actually make love. The Director himself occupies center stage in the second story when, while seeking inspiration for his new film, he happens upon a beautiful, mysterious and dangerous woman (Sophie Marceau) who would make a great character in his film, but perhaps not in his own life. In the third and most involved story line, an American living in Italy (Peter Weller) is charmed by a woman who approaches him in a restaurant and starts talking about people's souls. He begins an affair that his wife (Fanny Ardant) at first tolerates, but finally demands must end. He refuses and she, crushed emotionally, moves out and finds another apartment - only to find that it belongs to a man who's also the victim of a broken relationship.
The final segment features Vincent Perez as a would-be lothario who can't take no for an answer, even following a resistant mark into church. Unfortunately for him, she's already in love with a better man.
It's impossible to say how much of "Beyond the Clouds" is autobiographical, but I suspect there's more than a little of Antonioni himself in this film - in the way he feels about his films, the inspiration he uses in making them, and the way his world and his movies sometimes become inseparable. The result is a welcome window into the heart and soul of a cinematic maestro.
Starring John Malkovich, Sophie Marceau, Fanny Ardant, Peter Weller
Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni
Released by Sceneries Distribution
Running time 105 minutes
Unrated (Nudity, adult situations)
Sun score: ***
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