Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni dies at 94


Published: Wednesday, August 1, 2007 at 8:34 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, August 1, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

In Michelangelo Antonioni's movies, dialogue was sparse, shots lengthy and action minimal. This abstract style and a ruthless exploration of the malaise of modern man made the Italian director a darling of avant-garde cinema and a celebrated filmmaker across the world.

Antonioni died at 94 in his home, officials said Tuesday, after a career that spanned six decades, an Oscar for lifetime achievement and movies that have become classics such as "L'Avventura," "Blow-Up" and "Zabriskie Point."

His death Monday evening shortly after that of Swedish director Ingmar Bergman leaves European cinema without two of its most significant personalities.

"With Antonioni, cinema loses an author without whom it would not have been the same," Rome Mayor Walter Veltroni said.

Along with Federico Fellini, Antonioni helped turn postwar Italian film away from neorealism and toward a cinema more interested in exploring the alienation and fragile relationships of modern society than the down-to-earth troubles of life.

In the words of Jack Nicholson, one of his actors, Antonioni's movies mourned people's "failures to connect" in a cold, technological world.

Antonioni became a symbol of art-house cinema, if not a crowd pleaser. His critics found his films pretentious and aimless exercises with only vague significance.

A stroke in the mid-1980s significantly slowed down Antonioni's activity, leaving him largely unable to speak.

"If I hadn't become a director," Antonioni once said, "I would have been an architect, or maybe a painter. In other words, I think I'm someone who has things to show rather than things to say."

Antonioni's breakthrough came in 1960 with "L'Avventura," which explores existential malaise through a story based on a woman's disappearance during a boating trip.

Halliwell's Film Guide said the movie made the director "a hero of the highbrows." If critics loved it, the audience hissed when the film was presented at the 1960 Cannes Film Festival. Many filmgoers were frustrated by the lack of action and the camera's endless lingering on Monica Vitti, one of Antonioni's favorite actresses.

"L'Avventura" opened a trilogy that continued with "La Notte" (1961) and "L'Eclisse" (1962).

The films flesh out Antonioni's most distinctive themes: lovers who drift and fail to connect; unresolved stories played out in comfortable middle-class settings; an attempt to match cinematic visuals to the characters' feelings.

Antonioni's greatest popular success was probably his 1966 English-language film "Blow-Up," about a hip London photographer who suspects he has caught a murder on film. Despite the murder-mystery theme, the plot defies expectations and remains unresolved.

The film won top prize at the Cannes Film Festival and Academy Award nominations for best director and best screenplay.

Antonioni's last major picture was "The Passenger" (1975), starring Nicholson as a TV reporter who switches identities with a gun runner.

Nicholson presented Antonioni with the career Oscar in 1995. By then Antonioni was a physically frail but mentally sharp 82-year-old, unable to speak more than a few words because of the stroke but still translating his vision into film. The Oscar (and several other film prizes) was stolen from Antonioni's home in 1996.

Antonioni is survived by wife Enrica. He had no children.

The city of Rome said his body would lie in state at City Hall on Wednesday before a funeral scheduled Thursday in Ferrara.

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