STORY OF A LOVE AFFAIR directed by Michelangelo Antonioni, with Lucia Bosé, Massimo Girotti and Ferdinando Sarmi. 110 minutes. Subtitled. Wednesday (July 12), part of Cinematheque's Modernist Master: Michelangelo Antonioni series, from July 8. For details, see Indie & Rep Film, page 95. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNNN
Obviously capitalizing on the resurgence of interest in Michelangelo Antonioni after the successful re-release of The Passenger, Cinematheque Ontario has assembled a major retrospective. Just the ticket for those languorous, ennui-filled summer nights.
The series includes all of Antonioni's masterworks, including his mid-period trilogy consisting of L'Avventura (1960), La Notte (1961) and L'Eclisse (1962). For a note on those films and a few others in the series, check out John Harkness's essay on Antonioni back in January (www.nowtoronto.com/issues/2006-01-12/movie_feature.php).
The program launches this weekend with the director's rich experiment in colour, Red Desert (1964, Saturday, July 8), and continues with Story Of A Love Affair (Cronica Di Un Amore), his seldom-seen 1950 debut feature.
Story Of A Love Affair was based on James M. Cain's The Postman Always Rings Twice, and it's fascinating to see how different Antonioni's take is from Tay Garnett's 1946 classic starring Lana Turner and John Garfield. (Make sure you spot the cute nod to the name of the book's heroine, Cora.)
The setting has shifted from a Depression-era roadside diner to the post-war industry-rich city of Milan, and the plot has been tinkered with, too. Paola (Lucia Bosé) is the young wife of wealthy industrialist Fontana (Ferdinando Sarmi). When the husband hires a detective to look into his young wife's background, Paola's old flame Guido (Massimo Girotti) reunites with her, and the two eventually plot the old man's murder.
It's your basic noir narrative, yet as in his later films, you get the feeling that Antonioni is less interested in the mechanics of plot or the shadings of character than he is in setting up mood, atmosphere and mystery.
Paola and Guido's rendezvous are art-directed like fashion shoots, stunning in their oblique angles and haunting, never-ending vistas. Milan appears a cold, impersonal city, a great backdrop for two lovers who themselves are cold and impersonal. Against Giovanni Fusco's jazzy score, the two cling to each other less out of passion than out of spiritual emptiness.
Antonioni doesn't hide the fact that his protagonists get it on. Postman shocked American audiences with its hint of extramarital sex. Lana Turner initially turned down the role as too suggestive. Here, Paola lounges on Guido's hotel bed in an obvious post-coital moment. The final scene, too, says a lot about American vs European attitudes toward adultery and punishment.