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Beyond the Clouds

Director: Michelangelo Antonioni


The veteran Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni has been one of the most distinctive voices in world cinema for more than forty years. His trilogy of films L’Avventura, La Notte and L’Eclisse constitute one of the great achievements of post-war European cinema, and he achieved a surprising success with his first film in English, Blow Up. Sadly, Antonioni suffered a stroke in 1983 which left him unable to speak. Despite this handicap, he was keen to make more films and succeeded in completeing Beyond the Clouds in 1995. The film was made with the assistance of Wim Wenders, who acted as standby director to satisfy the insurance people and also filmed passages that link the four episodes filmed by Antonioni. Despite Wender’s involvement, Beyond the Clouds is very much Antonioni’s film. Indeed, with its four stories taken from Antonioni’s book That Bowling Alley on the Tiber, and a voice-over commentary drawn for the director’s own reflections on his art, Beyond the Clouds emerges as one of the most accessible expressions of how Antonioni sees the world and expresses himself in cinematic terms.
In the film, John Malkovich plays a director (Wenders had wanted Antonioni to take the part) who is searching for characters and events for a project. He relates the four stories that make up the main body of the film, and he becomes a protagonist in one of them. All four episodes are tales of impossible love in which men pursue beautiful women before discovering something that makes them unattainable, or something that destroys the relationship that’s established. This is familiar Antonioni territory, and he is a master at giving palpable visual form to the things that separate his characters, the very positioning of the camera making each shot an eloquent comment on the tension between the protagonists.
Location, environment and atmosphere have always been key elements in Antonioni’s work, and in Beyond the Clouds each story is closely tied to a particular place (Ferrara, Portofino, Paris, Aix-en-Provence). The very act of looking is at the heart of Antonioni’s cinema, which explores the mysteries of shifting images and perceptions. This concern finds playful expression in Beyond the Clouds, in which the male characters’ erotic fixations are frustrated the more they discoverer about the objects of their desires. It’s a very beautiful film and an elegant resume of a remarkable talent.

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