From the Chicago Reader, April 9, 1993. — J.R
FILMS BY MICHELANGELO ANTONIONI
Jean-Luc Godard: The drama is no longer psychological, but plastic . . .
Michelangelo Antonioni: It’s the same thing.
– from a 1964 interview
Just for my own edification, I’ve put together a list of the 12 greatest living narrative filmmakers — not so much personal favorites as individuals who, in my estimation, have done the most to change the way we perceive the world and are likeliest to be remembered and valued half a century from now. The names I’ve come up with are Michelangelo Antonioni, Ingmar Bergman, Robert Bresson, Federico Fellini, Samuel Fuller, Jean-Luc Godard, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Stanley Kubrick, Akira Kurosawa, Nagisa Oshima, Alain Resnais, and Ousmane Sembene.
Only five have had their most recent feature distributed in the U.S. — Bergman, Bresson, Kubrick, Kurosawa, and Sembene. Fellini may have recently earned a special Oscar, but that doesn’t mean we can expect to see his latest film anytime soon, and though Godard’s next-to-last feature, Nouvelle vague, has finally come out on video, that doesn’t mean we can expect to see it properly, on a big screen.
We can, however, see nearly all of Antonioni’s work — 14 of his 15 feature films and most of the dozen or so shorts — in brand-new prints at the Film Center this month and next.… Read more »
Based on the best-selling novel by Laura Esquivel, who adapted her own work for the screen, this delightful piece of magical realism from Mexican director Alfonso Arau (1991) contemplates the unrequited love of a single woman for her brother-in-law, a passion that can only be expressed and sublimated through the sensual meals she prepares for him. (The original novel even contained recipes.) With Lumi Cavazos, Marco Leonardi, and Regina Torne. The title, incidentally, derives from a Mexican slang expression that means, approximately, “ready to boil.” Fine Arts.… Read more »
A masterpiece by Stanley Kwan, the greatest Hong Kong film I’ve seen (also known as Ruan Ling Yu and Center Stage). The story of silent film actress Ruan Ling Yu (1910-1935), known as the Garbo of Chinese cinema, it combines documentary with period re-creation, biopic glamour with profound curiosity, and ravishing historical clips with color simulations of the same sequences being shot–all to explore a past that seems more complex, mysterious, and sexy than the present. Maggie Cheung won a well-deserved best actress prize at Berlin for her classy performance in the title role, and a large part of what Kwan does as a director is to create a kind of nimbus around her poise and grace. (If I had to pick Kwan’s Hollywood equivalent, I’d opt for George Cukor.) Kwan also creates a labyrinth of questions around who Ruan was and why she committed suicide–a labyrinth both physical (with beautifully ambiguous uses of black-and-white movie sets) and metaphysical–and keeps these questions perpetually open. You should be prepared for a picture that lasts 146 minutes and invites you to relish every one of them–not only the stylish beauty of an imagined Shanghai film world of the 30s, but also the flat abrasiveness of Kwan chatting with Cheung on video about what all this means and coming up with damn little.… Read more »