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Remembering Michelangelo Antonioni

Michelangelo Antonioni, the Italian master director who passed away last week, had a sound knowledge of Indian cinema's greats. I M Sahai pays tribute to the director.

entertainment Updated: Aug 03, 2007 17:45 IST
I M Sahai

Startling. Two film auteurs passed away within hours of each other on Monday. Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni, having led life to the full, packed up from different places in Europe.

Of the two, Antonioni was closer to India. He had a sound knowledge of Indian cinema's greats and appreciated how our films appealed to the teeming population of the country.

Close to heart
Most of his films have been shown at our international film festivals. He was at the International Film Festival of India in Kolkata in 1994 for his retrospective.<b1>

Antonioni was then already in his 80s. A stroke in 1985 had impaired his speech; his words had to be interpreted by his staff. Yet cinema-literate filmgoers of the eastern metroflocked to the Antonioni screenings.

They marvelled at how, despite his age and handicap, he was still at work. They marvelled even more about how, at that age, there was a pretty woman in tow, serving as his companion.

During his visit, when Antonioni appeared on the stage of Nandan, the state-owned entertainment complex in Kolkata, he was given a tremendous ovation, with fans shouting, "Antony Da!" (since his real name was not easy to utter).

A welcome like no other
He was deeply moved. At the official dinner that night, he told me that he not expected that to receive such applause in this part of the world.

He also talked about his experience of India, when he had come earlier to make a short film on the Kumbh Mela (which was released in 1989). He said, the mela had been a spiritually overwhelming experience. <b2>

In good company
Earlier, Antonioni had attended the International Film Festival of India, New Delhi, in the company of Satyajit Ray, Akira Kurosawa and Elia Kazan. This was in 1977 during the Emergency.

From a film critic and journalist he moved to screenwriting and then filmmaking. Despite his career spanning the second half of the 20th century and on to the current millennium, his total score was only around 25 films.

He was also committed to his own genre - studying the ‘architecture' of man-woman relationships - and did not follow the vogue of neo-realism in Italian Cinema.

And then there were awards
The film that brought him wide global notice was not even in his native language. Blow-Up (1966), which got him two Oscar nominations, was set in London, dealt with the work of a fashion photographer, and was his first in English language.

His foray into America, with Zabriskie Point (1970), was panned by the critics but was an extraordinarily perceptive study of youth angst in the desertlands flanking the U S highways.

With The Passenger (1975), featuring Jack Nicholson in the eponymous role, he regained unqualified respect of the critics.

Antonioni remained active, making short films till recently. He had contributed a piece to Eros (2004), which also had short films by Steven Spielberg and Wong Kar-Wai, both a generation younger than him. At 94, in bad health, Michelangelo Antonioni passed away quietly in Rome.