Wednesday, 23 November 2011
Identification of a Woman
Starring: Tomas Milian, Daniela Silverio, Christine Boisson
By Alan Bacchus
The great Italian modernist master known for beguiling cinema teasers like L’Avventura and Blow Up was 72 when he made this film. It has the makings of a 70-year-old, waning in creativity but still virile enough to titillate us with healthy doses of graphic Italian sex and a disconnected storyline that fits into his career of narrative ambiguities.
There is a strong connection to Fellini’s 8½ here too, with Antonioni’s lead character, Niccolo, like Fellini’s Guido, at a creative impasse, wandering through various affairs trying to connect emotionally with a woman and find a new leading lady for his next film. But is this really what the film is about? At the beginning, Antonioni sets up a mystery of sorts. Early on, after courting a very sexual female socialite called Mavi, Niccolo is threatened by a man advising him to stay away from her. The threat both angers and intrigues Niccolo, who sets off on a journey with Mavi to uncover the identity of the jealous other man.
Midway through, Antonioni crafts his key set piece, a suspenseful chase of sorts in a fog-enshrouded stretch of highway. It’s a lengthy sequence that plays as a metaphor for the murky background of Mavi, as well as Antonioni’s fascination with oblique narratives and loose-ended storytelling.
This film is no exception. Shortly after the fog sequence Mavi inexplicably disappears herself – the victim of the threatening man, perhaps? As expected, Antonioni provides little explanation or closure in this regard. Nor do we require this from him. Antonioni paints a vivid portrait of Niccolo, his leading man, as a sexually liberated middle-aged man with the most confident and casual sex life I’ve seen on screen in a while.
It’s mildly hilarious watching Niccolo approach female strangers with such casual candor. In one scene with a young girl at a swimming pool the gal admits to him in a matter of seconds that her favourite sexual position is masturbation. And yet this admission doesn’t phase Niccolo, who coolly accepts the statement like he’s working on a research project on the female mind and soul. He doesn’t bed the girl from the swimming pool, but he does find gratification with Ida, a comparatively demure actress who is still sexually vivacious and confident. Oh, to be Italian.
This film was also ‘celebrated’ for its sexual explicitness, and indeed we're treated to some truly eye-popping sexual acts and body positions. It also feature some extraordinarily aggressive kissing, which, under Antonioni’s direction, seems to have actor Tomas Milan attacking his partner’s mouth like a feral animal. It’s a head turner for sure. But hey, it’s Italy!
Niccolo’s relationship with Ida plays out more conventionally than the brainteaser plotting of Mavi and the mystery man. By the end, a strong theme of man’s inability to connect with women – or at least Antonioni’s inability to connect with women - develops. And Niccolo’s rejection of Ida in the end resounds with quiet tragedy. That is until a truly bizarre finale (even for Antonioni) when he indulges in a loopy science fiction dream sequence featuring Niccolo blasting into space toward the sun in an asteroid-shaped spaceship. But hey, Antonioni was 72 when he made this. By this time, like Jean-Luc Godard in the present, his career had given him carte blanche to do whatever he wanted.
Identification of a Woman is available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.