Today I was watching what I would call an obscure film, Bertolucci’s Partner. The film is clearly influenced in many ways by Godard’s Two or Three Things I Know I About Her, which I would assume is far more widely seen among Mubi members. I don’t know how I feel about the Bertolucci film, but I do like the Godard film. In any case, the parallel that struck me the most is the way in which modern post-war society is criticized by supplying revealing images of modern architecture on the edges of Rome and Paris respectively juxtaposed with those of the attractive city centers. While it’s understandable what’s being expressed with this use of imagery sometimes it strikes me as a tad excessive as though the centers of Rome and Paris serve as a facade to conceal what France and Italy really are. I see where both filmmakers are coming from, but at the same time it sometimes comes off as overly cynical and despondent as though it’s such a tragedy that Rome and Italy no longer consists exclusively of architecture that’s over three hundred years old. I can sympathize with their sentiments, but sometimes I just have to ask, “Why should Europe be obligated to preserve itself as though the entire continent were an outdoor museum to be received by culture-starved tourists from the New World.” I’m not saying Rome has to be rid of it’s old architecture. In fact I love the old architecture, but it should still have the right to be a city of the 21st century without chastised for it. Europe is allowed to be a thriving society of the modern-era. I’m having trouble organizing my thoughts, but I think you know what I’m getting at. Yes, I sympathize with the critiques of capitalism, American imperialism, etc. But Europe should have the right to be a modern society without being chastised for it. Or perhaps more precisely I feel the notion that the picturesque city centers of most European centers serve as a facade to conceal a given country’s true nature is unfair. Does modern architecture not have a right to exist on the continent of Europe? Is modern architecture a sign of cultural decadence? Last I heard Haussman architecture was modern back in the nineteenth century.
I agree with you! All you said is true.
Couldn’t have put it better myself :)
For the best answers to your question, you now need to watch Antonioni’s La Notte and Tati’s Playtime (and it probably wouldn’t hurt to catch Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, either). All of them use architecture, classic and modern, as major components of the films’ structures.
Once you’ve done that, then see Rossellini’s Viagio in Italia, and it should come full circle for you.
I’ve seen and happen to love both La Notte and Playtime, but it’s different in those films. I’ll explain latter. I don’t have time now.
I’ve had a lot of ambivalence with Bertolucci’s works, and have not seen Partner. I am certainly sympathetic with your complaint. I love and am impressed with what Antonioni did with architecture in the trilogy that starts with L’Avventura, so I’d be quite interested in what differences you draw between Bertolucci and Antonioni.
Well speaking of Bertolucci I liked Before the Revolution very much, but modern architecture isn’t really brought into the picture in that film. But the difference between Antonioni and Bertolucci’s Partner is that Antonioni manages to find beauty in modern architecture where Bertolucci does not. Also, Antonioni doesn’t seem to be criticizing modern architecture in and off itself, but rather the inability of lost human souls to find their place within a modern post-war society. In essence, Antonioni probably questions modernity to some degree, but he’s also fascinated by it and criticized humanity’s inability to adapt and to handle change, whereas Bertolucci seems to be saying in Partner that the picturesque center of Rome is simply a facade to conceal what Italy really is. Again, Bertolucci’s editing is clearly influenced by Godard’s Two or Three Things I Know About Her, which I happen to like. I sympathize with Godard’s sentiments expressed in the film, and he also seems to be exploring the dilemma of lost souls unable to adapt to a modern society while also criticizing consumerism, which is also understandable, but at times it seems as though Godard and Bertolucci are saying modern architecture is a violation of all that Europe is supposed to represent as though the preservation of city centers is a dishonest tactic to lure gullible New World tourists. I guess all I’m asking is what’s wrong with modern and old architecture coexisting as if constructing the former compromises the integrity of the latter.
Hmm. I wish I had a sharper memory of how Bertolucci presented architecture in The Conformist since I consider that to be his best realized film. I do seem to recall that that film did plant the Fascists rather particularly in the middle of their design aesthetic . But maybe that doesn’t have much significance for post-war developments.
In several films Antonioni seems to find modernity problematic, but I don’t think he is reactionary so much as troubled. Maybe Red Desert comes closest to a reactionary rejection of post-war industry and design, but it is still far from an embrace of the traditional.
You’re totally ignoring the impact of the war. Europe was decimated Massive rebuilding was needed in major cities to replace what had been destroyed — Rome especially. The modern archtecture that came in the wake of the waraffected filmmakers like Antonioni and Bertolucci in different ways. This is quite clear in a film like “Eclipse” In “Partner” less so as it’s a spychological comedy-drama.
@ DownByLaw In several films Antonioni seems to find modernity problematic,…
“ …must confront her social environment. It’s too simplistic to say – as many people have done – that I am condemning the inhuman industrial world which oppresses the individuals and leads them to neurosis. My intention… was to translate the poetry of the world, in which even factories can be beautiful. The line and curves of factories and their chimneys can be more beautiful than the outline of trees, which we are already too accustomed to seeing. It is a rich world, alive and serviceable… The neurosis I sought to describe in Red Desert is above all a matter of adjusting. There are people who do adapt, and others who can’t manage, perhaps because they are too tied to ways of life that are by now out-of-date."
David’s comment made me flash to Rosselllini’s great Germany Year Zero and all the rubble.
Bertolucci makes good use of fascist design aesthetics in The Conformist. Particularly around the scene in which Marcello sees Dominique Sanda as fascist mistress, before her appearance as the whore, and as Ana Quadri. He doesn’t drawn on a romantic past so much as depict a stifling, authoritarian atmosphere. There’s a nice sort of Godardian shot in there before a staircase, with a man carrying a bust of Hitler (if I recall correctly) that seems to replace his own head.
And yes, Partner comes off as Godard worship. It’s also sort of silly, and shows the mindset of the times, where revolution isn’t really associated with working people managing their own affairs so much as a bunch of yelling and jumping middle-class students freeing themselves from their superego, or what have you…
Robert, that Antonioni quote has always bothered me. I can’t figure out whether he is just being dishonest or wants to remain as ambiguous as possible, mostly for its own sake.
If that’s really the perspective that informed much of Antonioni’s work, it’s hard to understand how meaningful they are truly meant to be. Just saying that ‘oh yeah, this is the world now, time to adjust, your ways are out of date’ doesn’t sound particularly insightful to me.
But that’s part of the conflict with Antonioni. it’s difficult to know exactly where he really stood on these matters.
Before The Revolution is also quite Godardian at times, but at least Bertolucci makes that one his own at the same time, which is why it works.
What you have to say there I think brings us back to the whole judge the art, not the artist dilemma. In other words, just let the film speak for itself without being too concerned with Antonioni’s explanation of his work. Artists aren’t obligated to express in words what they attempt to say, successfully or not, on the screen.
But he had the buildings, trees, barrels painted to suit his taste. The reason he made the statement is because people were overlaying an ideology ( modern life is bad) and not letting the film speak.
“But he had the buildings, trees, barrels painted to suit his taste.”
Why though? If these buildings and barrels are so full of inherent ‘beauty’, why mess with them? Why didn’t he just leave them alone? Clearly he is not representing the beauty of the industrial world, as it is, if he is going out of his way to change it aesthetically? I’m not saying there isn’t any beauty there, but i think we should be careful in the way that we interpret that statement.
MARS: Sure, but to me an ’author’s word’ shouldn’t be immediately discounted(or accepted). it’s just another layer to engage with.
The same reason for most any decision – lens choice, camera vantage point, etc – aesthetic statement.
^^how did i know you were going to say that Robert? ; -) I still don’t think it’s the same. he is going that extra mile to alter his surroundings, yet he is telling us that this world is also naturally ‘beautiful’. and yes, it is, to an extent, but not in the manner he is suggesting, at least not imo.
oh well. whatever i guess.
He’s not making a documentary and his statement is clearly conditional:….was to translate the poetry of the world, in which …… can be beautiful. The line and curves …… can be more beautiful ….. a rich world, alive and serviceable.
^The husband thrives in this new world, the wife does not. The changes he makes in the look of the industrial world make it more palatable to us the viewers, so this should move us somewhat closer to the husband’s aesthetic and away from the wife’s.
^^What are the implications of that reading for you downbylaw?
Ok, with the usual caveat that I find it a bit difficult to talk about a film I have not seen recently:
The film spends more time with the wife, and us viewers are probably inclined to see through her subjective point of view. But this could readily lead to the conclusion that the industrial world is inhuman and just destroys us. By trying to made the industrial and modern more appealing to us, Antonioni (if he succeeds) moves us more towards the husband’s subjective view. He loves the new, he loves science, he loves progress. But it would be all too easy to just take him as another suit, an organization man, so Antonioni deliberately presents some of the world as the husband sees it. I guess I don’t see Antonioni as going for objectivity at all but is instead mediating through the experiences of both those who thrive and those who don’t. Eh, does that make any sense?
^^Ok Down, i thought maybe you were hinting at a feminist reading of the film or something. or maybe that, through his use of reason, man creates these awful alienating conditions for myself.
But that is the tension throughout a lot of Antonioni’s work as i mentioned before. it’s the conflict between the physical(often alien) beauty of the modern world, vs the affect it has on us as humans.
Antonioni was too cool for school though. Too cold and merciless in a lot of ways.
While there probably would be some interesting feminist readings, a male=reason causes alienation for female=emotion take seems a rather heavy handed approach for a subtle filmmaker like Antonioni.
Ok, but Red Desert seems much more focused on the built environment and particularly industry. Does industry figure at all in the visuals of the films in the trilogy? I can’t remember any. In those films, the conflict is more about the modern social world and the individual and the alienation that results (particularly for the affluent young). In the trilogy films, I take the physical world to be more of a visual language to talk about the social relations; in Red Desert, I take the physical world to be a direct subject.
Antonioni was too cool for school though. Too cold and merciless in a lot of ways.
I see what you mean. For me, he redeems himself from that charge by creating such beautiful films. There is a passion in the intensity of the craftsmanship.
“While there probably would be some interesting feminist readings, a male=reason causes alienation for female=emotion take seems a rather heavy handed approach for a subtle filmmaker like Antonioni.
It’s the conflict between the physical (often alien) beauty of the modern world, vs the affect it has on us as humans.”
Yeah, i wasn’t suggesting that’s what you were saying, but i wanted to check, that’s all ;-)
Then again, Antonioni has been accused of being heavy handed at times too so….. ;-)
“Does industry figure at all in the visuals of the films in the trilogy?”
No, but modern architecture does in L’eclisse.
“I take the physical world to be more of a visual language to talk about the social relations; in Red Desert I take the physical world to be a direct subject.”
Agree, and i’ve mentioned that before on here. Red Desert is a lot more ‘obvious’ in that sense, as the source of the ‘problem’ is right there in front of you.
“I see what you mean. For me, he redeems himself from that charge by creating such beautiful films. There is a passion in the intensity of the craftsmanship.”
Of course, but i think it’s interesting the way that, unlike some other directors that deal with modern alienation, he seems to present the modern as being disconnected from the past, or at least on the way to being disconnected. We don’t learn much about the culture of modern Italy vs the past through his films in the way we learn about the changes to Greek culture in the films of Angelopoulos. That’s why i was surprised when i read a critique of L’vventura recently where the author basically said that he doesn’t think modern alienation is a problem because he doesn’t ‘romanticise’ the past like Antonioni does. Really? I have seen very little evidence of that in his films. There is nothing ‘romantic’ or ‘nostalgic’ about Antonioni’s films at all. No longing for a lost idealised past. at least not from L’avventura onwards anyway.
A lot of Italians i know hate Antonioni because they think he misrepresents them. But then i guess his point was to make films that were more ‘universal’ i think.
That’s why i was surprised when i read a critique of L’vventura recently where the author basically said that he doesn’t think modern alienation is a problem because he doesn’t ‘romanticise’ the past like Antonioni does.
Yes, that is a puzzling thing to say. Did he offer any instances of this supposed romanticizing? I don’t think I’ve ever considered directly the question of Antonioni’s attitude to the past. That question just doesn’t seem to have the sort of immediacy as does his attitude to the modern. Still, it’s a good question and not one that I can sketch out a quick answer on. Your contrast with Angelopoulos’s history saturated films is an interesting one too. If I think about this much, I’m sure it will lead me back to watching these films again.