Michelangelo Antonioni may be 92, but he still knows how to make a great movie. One of our local Landmark theaters this weekend showed his latest short, Michelangelo Eye-to-Eye (Lo Sguardo di Michelangelo), a 17-minute meditation on that other Michelangelo's sculpture of Moses. It was an unusual showing. As far as I can tell, it wasn't a part of any series, and it wasn't paired with another film. It was just a short with a $2 admission.
The title at the beginning of the film says that in 1985 Antonioni had a stroke that bound him to a wheelchair. In 2004, "through the magic of cinema," he was able to visit the church of Saint Peter in Chains in Rome to see the sculpture. I'm not sure what that means, exactly, but the next thing you see is someone who looks like Antonioni walking into a dark church with a few streams of light coming through high windows. For the next 15 minutes he stands before the giant Moses, sculpted by the man with whom he shares a name, gazes up at it, feels its smooth curves and hollows, and then leaves the church.
And it's really quite soothing. The short is nearly soundless, with the emphasis on nearly, because it's actually filled with sound, it's just very delicate. Antonioni's footsteps echo and even his ring and fingers against the stone are audible, only just, before angelic voices sing over his exit. The church is dark, but the light plays off of Moses' beard and deepens his furrowed brow, and Antonioni cuts elegantly from one detail to another and often back to his own face or hands. He uses shallow focus to move through the sculpture's layers, and sometimes puts himself in an unfocused haze.
At times the picture goes into slow-motion, but usually it's when there's very little movement, his wrinkled hand dangling at his side, say, and the only way you can tell it's in slo-mo is through his arm's ghostly-smooth, nearly imperceptible sway. In another moment, when the camera pans from Moses' toes to his head, it seems to hang a few extra seconds on his feet.
In L'Avventura, Antonioni dwarfed his characters with massive architecture and barren islands. One character was even swallowed by one of those islands and was never seen again. Here, by cutting from the stone to his own aged skin and sunken cheeks, he seems to comment on age itself. As his joints turn to stone, he must wonder what others will see when they look at his legacy. And the lingering on the feet, does it recall his own, unusable, bound to a wheelchair? In this short he strides confidently through the church, or is it just the magic of cinema?
I've always wished there were an outlet for short films, besides TV. As simple as it seems I'm not sure I've ever seen one in a theater in isolation like this. I've seen them as part of a shorts package at a festival, where they'll show you half a dozen or more in one sitting. Or I've seen them opening another film, or at home on video.
But having seen one all alone, having walked into the theater, gazed up at the screen for 17 minutes, then walked out into the day to talk about what I'd seen— well, it's just hard to imagine feeling the same way about it if something else had butted up against it. It would be like a tour group coming into the church and hurrying Antonioni along, or it would be like visiting a museum in which you see not one sculpture but many, spreading your attentions, always on the move.
No, this is the way to do it, on a Sunday afternoon in broad daylight, a quick film before lunch, a meditation on art and life, and a reminder that filmmakers are put out to pasture far too soon. Won't someone show us how to grow old?
[Here's one of the few reviews of the film I've been able to find. It premiered at Cannes earlier this year. Watch for it to come to your town.]
"Moses...supposes...his toes are roses...but Moses...supposes...erroneously..."
Sorry, couldn't resist. :)
This sounds really beautiful--I hope I get to see it. I like your comparison of stones here and in L'Avventura, very intriguing.
Where did you hear about this?
Doug, now I'm absolutely sure those are the words that were going through Antonioni's head as he looked up at the statue. In fact I think you can even see his lips moving. (The phrase must have an Italian equivalent.)
phyrephox, race over to the Landmark site and sign up for their email announcements. (These work for any town that has a Landmark theater, by the way.)
I get these weekly updates about what's showing, and honestly I usually don't pay much attention. I keep up with the schedules and don't really need the reminders.
However, for some reason I looked at this one a bit more closely before I deleted it, and — woah — buried in there was this bit about two showings of the Antonioni short, one Saturday, one Sunday. My wife and I were two of the seven people in the theater. :-(
I really don't know how they expected anyone to know about this. Weird. I'll be reading more closely from now on. Maybe I should revive my "this week in SF" posts to share these lucky finds. I've gotten lazy about posting those things.
Whoo hoo! They're screening Eye to Eye in the Views from the Avant-Garde program at the NYFF at it doesn't interfere with Hou's Caf? Lumiere. Happy, happy! Joy, joy!
Excellent. I think you'll really like the short.