Less monumental in its purity and more subtle in its radicalism, Antonioni's 1962 masterpiece L'Eclisse showcases Vitti as his moodiest, most evasive heroine, drifting out of one affair and into another with Alain Delon's mercurial stockbroker. Both beautiful creatures are overshadowed by the blandly futuristic architecture of the film's setting. As L'Eclisse anticipates Jean-Luc Godard's 1965 Alphaville in its use of a "found" Flash Gordon landscape, Antonioni's first color film, Red Desert, is almost pure science fiction. Everything exudes a chemical glow. Nature has been supplanted.

The overrated Blow Up and underrated Zabriskie Point form, with The Passenger (1975) — which stars Jack Nicholson as an international man of mystery — a loose trilogy, less enduring but more personal than the Vitti vehicles. In each of these laconic, ostentatiously with-it thrillers, an alienated male protagonist stumbles into some sort of social commitment, attempting the passage from witness to participant. All three were made in English at a time when Antonioni was the world's most cosmopolitan filmmaker — an example of what German author Hans-Magnus Enzensberger unkindly termed a "tourist of the revolution." Antonioni's 1972 China documentary, Chung Kuo Cina, made the year before Enzensberger's essay was published, might be considered a pendant on the "radical tourist" trilogy. Antonioni was a Now-ist.

"In this period, they had what was called 'the art film,'" Nicholson explains in the commentary that augments The Passenger's DVD release, locating it in some irretrievable past. Fair enough. Antonioni's trendiness was a factor of his desire to engage the history of his times. It's suggestive that those contemporary directors who have made the most use of Antonioni's example — Abbas Kiarostami, Tsai Ming-liang, the late Edward Yang — are from nations once considered "Third World."

whowhat:Ingmar Bergman| Michelangelo Antonioni

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