Friday, 27 November 2009

Beyond the Clouds

In 1995, Antonioni made a film called Beyond the Clouds in which a beautiful young girl approaches a stranger in a cafe with a story she had read. 'In a scientific expedition in the Andes, the porters sat down and refused to go further that day. When asked why, they said that they needed time for their souls to catch up with them.' She and the stranger, who is in love with his wife, become lovers, and a tangled story ensues. The four short films comprising Beyond the Clouds are all about relationships: in the first, the relationship is affectionate, romantic and unconsummated, in the second it is instant and transitory, in the third, the story of the young girl and the stranger, ultimately violent, and in the fourth, also unconsummated, it turns out that the girl is entering a convent the next day.

Antonioni is wonderful at filming things, and people sometimes seem superfluous. There's a sequence of a deserted mediterranean holiday beach at midwinter which is full of thoughts and stories – until John Malkovitch walks in. Of course Antonioni is notorious for painting his scenes. He had all the leaves repainted in one shot in Blowup because they were the wrong green: perhaps that mediterranean beach was rather less striking before he arrived. (Digital technology might have saved him a lot of work.) He makes the bodies of his actresses look amazing too, which hasn't passed without comment. As it happens, the most memorable scene in the film is an encounter, fully clothed, between Mastroianni and Jeanne Moreau that lasts all of four minutes. Their warmth and affection doesn't even have to be scripted. Her face is the most wonderful mix of humour, wisdom and affection. They were the life and soul of La Notte, 34 years earlier, which comes over as Antonioni's best film.

In the end, despite the beautiful young actresses, what stays in mind is Mastroianni the Sunday painter, painting Cezanne's mountain together with the cement factory that has appeared in the next valley, and Moreau looking at his painting with an amused shake of her head. That and the porters waiting for their souls to catch up with them, the feeling you get after a long journey, the worrying feeling that your soul might be getting a bit slow at keeping up.

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