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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Sunday, June 14, 2020

entry arrow10:00 AM | The Film Meme No. 50

[50th of 100]. There are many things in life that refuse to bend to our want for clarity and explanation, and it is often tempting to be dismissive of these things, labelling them as an "incoherent mess" and other similar windshield smears. To succumb to dismissiveness, I've learned, can be a disservice, and sometimes the questions that arise are often better than the answers we hope to get. This 1960 masterpiece from Michelangelo Antonioni is a perfect example. I had a friend once when I was in college, an American photographer who had retired in Dumaguete who found out I wanted to see film noir but found the opportunity to screen them wanting [this was in the pre-Internet days when the only way to enjoy classic movies was through cable television or through meticulously hoarded VHS tapes]. He had an enviable library of films in cassette, and I was hooked. He'd regularly screen them for me on weekends in his beachside house somewhere in Banilad -- and then one day he decided to introduce me to Antonioni. I've heard of the film, of course, and knew it was hailed in Cannes as a film that "introduced a new cinematic language," although it was equally booed by those who found it a bore and a cipher. From the get-go then, the film was polarizing: you either loved it or hated it with equal passion. Me, I didn't know what to make of it. First we follow a sour-faced woman named Anna and her disaffected boyfriend named Sandro [and a best friend named Claudia who spends the first part of the film passive and in the background], then we follow these obviously bourgeois people as they go on a sailing adventure in the Aeolian Islands in the Mediterranean, then Anna disappears, then her friends make a show of looking for her, then the film now follows Claudio who has since taken up with Sandro without misgivings, then they gradually forget about looking for Anna who never appears again, then the film ends. What was going on? Why was this film refusing to follow my narrative expectations? Why would this film abandon its ostensible lead only to follow another? What makes of the shallowness and existential emptiness of these people? These very challenges are what makes the film a head-scratcher -- and I could have gone the route of dismissal, but something about it percolated in my subconsciousness in an impressionistic way, and I couldn't help but return now and then to its enigmatic unfolding, buoyed for the most part by its stunning images. [Because if there is one thing you couldn't fault the film to be, it is its beautiful cinematography by Aldo Scavarda.] And I've long realized this is the very soul of the movie, its refusal to be understood -- and I think there is beauty in that. We could read it as a devastating commentary on the exhausted ennui among the rich and the well-dressed, and it is easy to see it that way, given the trickle of similarly constructed films that came after 1960 -- Antonioni's La Notte and L'Eclisse, Alain Resnais's Last Year at Marienbad and Hiroshima, Mon Amour, Federico Fellini's La Dolce Vita and , Ingmar Bergman's Persona, films that Pauline Kael called "Come-Dressed-As-the-Sick-Soul-of-Europe Parties." Much much later, I would get to know postmodernism's challenges to storytelling, and learn about Alain Robbe-Grillet [who wrote Last Year at Marienbad] and his insistence that a novel or film is not meant to inform us about reality but to constitute reality -- in other words to create an aesthetic world which exists separately from the real world and does not necessarily correspond to it. I think of the challenging films of the early 1960s this way and understand what they are trying to do, which does not diminish their puzzles, but why insist that they must? I prefer the dervish of not knowing. What's the film?

For the introduction to this meme, read here.


[0] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich