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Michelangelo Antonioni

Portrait photograph
Born (1912-09-29)29 September 1912
Died 30 July 2007(2007-07-30) (aged 94)
Rome, Italy
Alma mater University of Bologna
  • Film director
  • screenwriter
  • film editor
  • author
Years active 1942–2004
Notable work
  • L'Avventura (1960)
  • L'Eclisse (1961)
  • La Notte (1962)
  • Blow-up (1966)
Letizia Balboni
(m. 1942; div. 1954)
Enrica Fico
(m. 1986)
Partner(s) Monica Vitti (1960–1970)

Michelangelo Antonioni Cavaliere di Gran Croce OMRI (/ˌæntniˈni/, Italian: [mikeˈlandʒelo (ˌ)antoˈnjoːni]; 29 September 1912 – 30 July 2007) was an Italian director and filmmaker. He is best known for his "trilogy on modernity and its discontents"—L'Avventura (1960), La Notte (1961), and L'Eclisse (1962)—as well as the English-language film Blow-up (1966). His films have been described as "enigmatic and intricate mood pieces" that feature elusive plots, striking visual composition, and a preoccupation with modern landscapes. His work substantially influenced subsequent art cinema. Antonioni received numerous awards and nominations throughout his career, being the only director to have won the Palme d'Or, the Golden Lion, the Golden Bear and the Golden Leopard.

Early life

Antonioni was born into a prosperous family of landowners in Ferrara, Emilia Romagna, in northern Italy. He was the son of Elisabetta (née Roncagli) and Ismaele Antonioni.

As a child, Antonioni was fond of drawing and music. A precocious violinist, he gave his first concert at the age of nine. Although he abandoned the violin with the discovery of cinema in his teens, drawing would remain a lifelong passion. "I have never drawn, even as a child, either puppets or silhouettes but rather facades of houses and gates. One of my favourite games consisted of organizing towns. Ignorant in architecture, I constructed buildings and streets crammed with little figures. I invented stories for them. These childhood happenings—I was eleven years old—were like little films."

Upon graduation from the University of Bologna with a degree in economics, he started writing for the local Ferrara newspaper Il Corriere Padano in 1935 as a film journalist.

In 1940, Antonioni moved to Rome, where he worked for Cinema, the official Fascist film magazine edited by Vittorio Mussolini. However, Antonioni was fired a few months afterwards. Later that year he enrolled at the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia to study film technique but left after three months. He was subsequently drafted into the army. During the war Antonioni survived being condemned to death as a member of the Italian resistance.


Early film work

In 1942, Antonioni co-wrote A Pilot Returns with Roberto Rossellini and worked as assistant director on Enrico Fulchignoni's I due Foscari. In 1943, he travelled to France to assist Marcel Carné on Les visiteurs du soir and then began a series of short films with Gente del Po (1943), a story of poor fishermen of the Po valley. When Rome was liberated by the Allies, the film stock was transferred to the Fascist "Republic of Salò" and could not be recovered and edited until 1947 (the complete footage was never retrieved). These films were neorealist in style, being semi-documentary studies of the lives of ordinary people.

However, Antonioni's first full-length feature film Cronaca di un amore (1950) broke away from neorealism by depicting the middle classes. He continued to do so in a series of other films: I vinti ("The Vanquished", 1952), a trio of stories, each set in a different country (France, Italy and England), about juvenile delinquency; La signora senza camelie (The Lady Without Camellias, 1953) about a young film star and her fall from grace; and Le amiche (The Girlfriends, 1955) about middle-class women in Turin. Il grido (The Outcry, 1957) was a return to working class stories, depicting a factory worker and his daughter. Each of these stories is about social alienation.

International recognition

In Le Amiche (1955), Antonioni experimented with a radical new style: instead of a conventional narrative, he presented a series of apparently disconnected events, and he used long takes as part of his film making style. Antonioni returned to their use in L'avventura (1960), which became his first international success. At the Cannes Film Festival it received a mixture of cheers and boos, but the film was popular in art house cinemas around the world. La notte (1961), starring Jeanne Moreau and Marcello Mastroianni, and L'Eclisse (1962), starring Alain Delon, followed L'avventura. These three films are commonly referred to as a trilogy because they are stylistically similar and all concerned with the alienation of man in the modern world. La notte won the Golden Bear award at the 11th Berlin International Film Festival, His first color film, Il deserto rosso (The Red Desert, 1964), deals with similar themes, and is sometimes considered the fourth film of the "trilogy". All of these films star Monica Vitti, his lover during that period.

Antonioni then signed a deal with producer Carlo Ponti that would allow artistic freedom on three films in English to be released by MGM. The first, Blowup (1966), set in Swinging London, was a major international success. The script was loosely based on the short story The Devil's Drool (otherwise known as Blow Up) by Argentinian writer Julio Cortázar. It starred David Hemmings and Vanessa Redgrave. The second film was Zabriskie Point (1970), his first set in America and with a counterculture theme. The soundtrack featured music from Pink Floyd (who wrote new music specifically for the film), the Grateful Dead and the Rolling Stones. However, its release was a critical and commercial disaster. The third, The Passenger (1975), starring Jack Nicholson and Maria Schneider, received critical praise, but also did poorly at the box office. It was out of circulation for many years, but was re-released for a limited theatrical run in October 2005 and has subsequently been released on DVD.

In 1966, Antonioni drafted a treatment entitled "Technically Sweet", which he later developed into a screenplay with Mark Peploe, Niccolo Tucci, and Tonino Guerra, with plans to begin filming in the early '70's with actors Jack Nicholson and Maria Schneider. On the verge of production in the Amazon jungle, the producer, Carlo Ponti, suddenly withdrew support and the project was abandoned, with Nicholson and Schneider going forward to star in The Passenger. In 2008, "Technically Sweet", became an international group exhibition curated by Copenhagen-based artists Yvette Brackman and Maria Finn, in which the creations of several artists, working in multiple mediums and based on Antoniono's manuscript, were displayed in New York City. One of these was the short film "Sweet Ruin", directed by Elisabeth Subrin and starring Gaby Hoffmann. Antonioni's widow Enrica and director André Ristum have announced plans to produce a feature film based on the screenplay, with filming in Brazil and Sardinia to begin in 2023.

In 1972, in between Zabriskie Point and The Passenger, Antonioni was invited by the Mao government of the People's Republic of China to visit the country. He made the documentary Chung Kuo, Cina, but it was severely denounced by the Chinese authorities as "anti-Chinese" and "anti-communist". The documentary had its first showing in China on 25 November 2004 in Beijing with a film festival hosted by the Beijing Film Academy to honour the works of Michelangelo Antonioni.

Later career

Michelangelo Antonioni
Antonioni in the 2000s

In 1980, Antonioni made Il mistero di Oberwald (The Mystery of Oberwald), an experiment in the electronic treatment of color, recorded in video then transferred to film, featuring Monica Vitti once more. It is based on Jean Cocteau's play L'Aigle à deux têtes (The Eagle With Two Heads). Identificazione di una donna (Identification of a Woman, 1982), filmed in Italy, deals one more time with the recursive subjects of his Italian trilogy. In 1985, Antonioni suffered a stroke, which left him partly paralyzed and unable to speak. However, he continued to make films, including Beyond the Clouds (1995), for which Wim Wenders filmed some scenes. As Wenders has explained, Antonioni rejected almost all the material filmed by Wenders during the editing, except for a few short interludes. They shared the FIPRESCI Prize at the Venice Film Festival with Cyclo.

In 1994 he was given the Honorary Academy Award "in recognition of his place as one of the cinema's master visual stylists." It was presented to him by Jack Nicholson. Months later, the statuette was stolen by burglars and had to be replaced. Previously, he had been nominated for Academy Awards for Best Director and Best Screenplay for Blowup. Antonioni's final film, made when he was in his 90s, was a segment of the anthology film Eros (2004), entitled Il filo pericoloso delle cose (The Dangerous Thread of Things). The short film's episodes are framed by dreamy paintings and the song "Michelangelo Antonioni", composed and sung by Caetano Veloso. However, it was not well-received internationally. The U.S. DVD release of the film includes another 2004 short film by Antonioni, Lo sguardo di Michelangelo (The Gaze of Michelangelo).

Antonioni died at age 94 on 30 July 2007 in Rome, the same day that another renowned film director, Ingmar Bergman, also died. Antonioni lay in state at City Hall in Rome where a large screen showed black-and-white footage of him among his film sets and behind-the-scenes. He was buried in his hometown of Ferrara on 2 August 2007.

Personal life  

Antonioni was married twice, first to Letizia Balboni in 1942, and then to Enrica Fico in 1986. He also had several affairs, including one with the American photographer and actress Marilyn Monroe in the late 1950s, and another with actress Monica Vitti, who starred in several of his films, including "L'avventura" and "La notte."

Antonioni's relationship with Vitti was particularly significant and lasted for several years. They met on the set of "L'avventura" in 1959 and worked together on several subsequent films. Their relationship was marked by intense passion and creative collaboration, but it ultimately came to an end in the early 1970s.

Despite the ups and downs of his romantic relationships, Antonioni remained devoted to his work throughout his life. He is widely regarded as one of the most influential filmmakers of the 20th century, known for his innovative and poetic approach to cinema.


Feature films

Year English title Original title
1950 Story of a Love Affair Cronaca di un amore
1953 The Vanquished I Vinti
1953 The Lady Without Camelias La signora senza camelie
1955 The Girl Friends Le Amiche
1957 The Cry Il Grido
1960 The Adventure L'Avventura
1961 The Night La Notte
1962 The Eclipse L'Eclisse
1964 Red Desert Il Deserto Rosso
1966 Blowup
1970 Zabriskie Point
1972 Chung Kuo, Cina documentary
1975 The Passenger Professione: Reporter
1980 The Mystery of Oberwald Il mistero di Oberwald
1982 Identification of a Woman Identificazione di una donna
1995 Beyond the Clouds Al di là delle nuvole

Short films

  • Gente del Po (People of the Po Valley, filmed in 1943, released in 1947) – 10 minutes
  • N.U. (Dustmen, 1948) – 11 minutes
  • Oltre l'oblio (1948)
  • Roma-Montevideo (1948)
  • Lies of Love (L'amorosa menzogna, 1949) – 10 minutes
  • Sette canne, un vestito (Seven Reeds, One Suit, 1949) – 10 minutes
  • Bomarzo (1949)
  • Ragazze in bianco (Girls in White, 1949)
  • Superstizione (Superstition, 1949) – 9 minutes
  • La villa dei mostri (The House of Monsters, 1950) – 10 minutes
  • La funivia del Faloria (The Funicular of Mount Faloria, 1950) – 10 minutes
  • Tentato suicido (When Love Fails, 1953) – episode in L'amore in città (Love in the City)
  • Il provino (1965) – episode in I tre volti
  • Inserto girato a Lisca Bianca (1983) – 8 minutes
  • Kumbha Mela (1989) – 18 minutes
  • Roma (Rome, 1989) – episode in 12 registi per 12 città, for the 1990 FIFA World Cup
  • Noto, Mandorli, Vulcano, Stromboli, Carnevale (Volcanoes and Carnival, 1993) – 8 minutes
  • Sicilia (1997) – 9 minutes
  • Lo sguardo di Michelangelo (The Gaze of Michelangelo, 2004) – 15 minutes
  • Il filo pericoloso delle cose (The Dangerous Thread of Things, 2004) – episode in Eros

Awards and honors

  • Academy Honorary Award (1995)
  • Berlin International Film Festival FIPRESCI Prize (1961)
  • Berlin International Film Festival Golden Bear (1961), for La Notte
  • Bodil Award for Best European Film (1976), for The Passenger
  • British Film Institute Sutherland Trophy (1960), for L'Avventura
  • Cannes Film Festival Jury Prize (1960), for L'Avventura
  • Cannes Film Festival Jury Prize (1962), for Eclipse
  • Cannes Film Festival Palme d'Or (1967), for Blowup
  • Cannes Film Festival 35th Anniversary Prize (1982), for Identification of a Woman
  • David di Donatello Award for Best Director (1961), for La Notte
  • David di Donatello Luchino Visconti Award (1976)
  • European Film Awards Life Achievement Award (1993)
  • Flaiano Prize Career Award in Cinema (2000)
  • French Syndicate of Cinema Critics Award for Best Foreign Film (1968), for Blowup
  • Giffoni Film Festival François Truffaut Award (1991)
  • Giffoni Film Festival Golden Career Gryphon (1995)
  • International Istanbul Film Festival Lifetime Achievement Award (1996)
  • Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists Silver Ribbon for Best Documentary (1948), for N.U.
  • Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists Silver Ribbon for Best Documentary (1950), for Lies of Love
  • Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists Special Silver Ribbon (1951), for Story of a Love Affair
  • Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists Silver Ribbon for Best Director (1956), for Le Amiche
  • Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists Silver Ribbon for Best Director (1962), for La Notte
  • Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists Silver Ribbon for Best foreign film Director (1968), for Blow up
  • Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists Silver Ribbon for Best Director (1976), for The Passenger
  • Kansas City Film Critics Circle Award for Best Director (1968), for Blowup
  • Locarno International Film Festival Prize (1957), for Il Grido
  • Montreal World Film Festival Grand Prix Special des Amériques (1995)
  • National Society of Film Critics Special Citation Award (2001)
  • National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Director (2001), for Blowup
  • Palm Springs International Film Festival Lifetime Achievement Award (1998)
  • Valladolid International Film Festival FIPRESCI Prize for Short Film (2004), for Michelangelo Eye to Eye
  • Venice Film Festival Silver Lion (1955), for Le Amiche
  • Venice Film Festival FIPRESCI Prize (1964), for Red Desert
  • Venice Film Festival Golden Lion (1964), for Red Desert
  • Venice Film Festival Career Golden Lion (1983)
  • Venice Film Festival FIPRESCI Prize (1995), for Beyond the Clouds (with Wim Wenders)
  • Venice Film Festival Pietro Bianchi Award (1998)

See also

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