Beyond the Clouds: Antonioni on Eros and Desire

Over the past two decades, every film from the vet Italian maestro Michelangelo Antonioni has been an event. His new work, Beyond the Clouds, which I caught at the 1995 Toronto Film Festival, is precisely that: an international eventand a gift to his fans.

At 83 (he was born in 1912), Antonioni is not exactly at the top of his form, yet he continues to show his distinctive vision, here applied to some of the most beautiful and most photogenic women working in European cinema today. In “Beyond the Clouds,” you get to see Sophie Marceau, Fanny Ardant, Irene Jacob, some of them in the nude,

A meditation on eros and desire, love, obsession and madness this anthology of four stories is not too deep or even existential, unlike Antonioni’s earlier work. But it’s personal cinema, due to the source material, which is composed of short stories Antonioni wrote at various phases of his life, and due to the master’s unique sensibility.

Each of the four episodes, which are strange, mysterious, and often ambiguous, is built around an interesting idea, not to speak of the visual pleasure, expressed in the mise-en-scene, cutting and framing, that they singly and jointly offer.

Fanny Ardant (best known for her work for Truffaut, her real-life companion and father of child) and Peter Weller are in a story about agony of a young woman who deals with the breakup of her marriage.

John Malkovich and Sophie Marceau appear in a story about love and madness.

Irene Jacob (most recently in Kieslowski’s “The Double Life of Veronique” and “Red”) and Vincent Perez are cast in a sequence that contrasts platonic love with carnal desire, a recurring issue in the work of the director, who seems to suggest here that the sexual act is often the very desecration of desire.

The film also reunites Jeanne Moreau and Marcello Mastroianni (who appeared in “La Notte” and other features) in evocative performances that link between this and former works.

Antonioni approaches the sensitive material and his delicate actresses with sensitivity, placing emphasis on their positioning against physical space. Visually, as most of Antonionio’s work, “Beyond the Clouds” is far more compelling and intriguing than thematically, though I wouldn’t dismiss the film’s ideas entirely.

As an anthology, “Beyond the Clouds” is necessary epidosic and fractured, but what unifies the film is the master’s unique touch, still very much in evidence in nearly every frame.

For the record, the screenplay is credited to Antonioni, his regular collaborator Tonino Guerra, and German filmmaker Wim Wenders who, for mostly insurance purposes, functioned as on-the-set substitute-director, and oversaw the shooting of the prologue and epilogue.