Combustible Celluloid
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With: Monica Vitti, Franco Branciaroli, Paolo Bonacelli, Elisabetta Pozzi, Luigi Diberti, Amad Saha Alan, Carla Buzzanca
Written by: Michelangelo Antonioni, Tonino Guerra, based on a play by Jean Cocteau
Directed by: Michelangelo Antonioni
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Language: Italian with English subtitles
Running Time: 129
Date: 09/03/1981

The Mystery of Oberwald (1981)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Antonioni's Aura

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Director Michelangelo Antonioni is still best known for his 1960's freak-out movie Blow Up, a colorful suspense story about a photographer who discovers a potential murder in the background of one of his photos. The movie caught on with audiences with its hip look and way-out music by the Yardbirds (featuring Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page) and Herbie Hancock. But Antonioni is considered a world master director in spite of this funky anomaly in his resume. His masterpiece L'avventura (1960) made incredible use of the emptiness of the Cinemascope space as his characters searched an island in vain for a mysteriously vanished girl, and his other films La Notte (1960), L'eclisse (1962), and Red Desert (1964) are equally admired. The last film on radar was his 1970 flop Zabriskie Point, and from there on out, no one paid any attention to him, though his 1975 film The Passenger, starring Jack Nicholson, was another masterpiece.

Antonioni still works today, despite suffering a stroke in 1985. His latest film, Beyond the Clouds, made in 1995 with the help of Wim Wenders and released in 1999, showed signs of the old master's touch. But the last two films made just before his stroke, The Mystery of Oberwald and Identification of a Woman have only just been released in America for the first time on home video (VHS only).

The Mystery of Oberwald (1980) marked a brave experiment from the great director. Current directors such as Wayne Wang, Spike Lee, and Lars von Trier have all recentnly tried their hand at shooting films on video. But Antonioni did it first, before video was even widely available on the home market. The Mystery of Oberwald was not a project he chose himself, based on a play by Jean Cocteau, but he made the best of it. His frequent leading lady Monica Vitti plays the Queen, who remains in hiding ten years after her husband's murder. A young man who resembles the fallen king comes to kill her and ends up becoming her lover.

Antonioni jumps head first into the video format, isolating color fields and giving characters certain color "auras," depending upon their mood or intention. Vitti is as striking here as she was in her earlier 60's-era films, and though the story doesn't move very far very fast, it's still a powerful picture, experiment or no experiment. Though The Mystery of Oberwald was transferred to film for its theatrical premiere, Facets has made its new tape directly from Antonioni's video master.

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