Combustible Celluloid
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With: John Malkovich, Sophie Marceau, Fanny Ardant, Irene Jacob, Vincent Perez, Jean Reno, Ines Sastre, Peter Weller, Marcello Mastroianni, Jeanne Moreau, Kim Rossi Stuart, Chiara Caselli
Written by: Michelangelo Antonioni, Wim Wenders, Soheil Ghodsy, Tonino Guerra, Francesco Marcucci
Directed by: Michelangelo Antonioni, Wim Wenders
MPAA Rating: NR
Language: French, English, Italian with English subtitles
Running Time: 112
Date: 09/03/1995

Beyond the Clouds (1995)

4 Stars (out of 4)

A Little Rain Must Fall...

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Beyond the Clouds is the newest movie by Michelangelo Antonioni, a director who is on the "short list" of the world's most groundbreaking and masterful living filmmakers. Made in 1995, the film has been circulating film festivals for four years. But San Francisco's own Roxie Theater is the first to muster the nerve to give it a U.S. Theatrical Premiere. It opens there Friday for a week's run.

Antonioni changed the face of filmmaking with his 1960 film L'Avventura and then again in 1966 with his huge hit Blow Up. He showed us that the space surrounding the characters was just as important as the characters themselves, and that the story need not necessarily be the most important thing, as long as the film evoked emotion. Antonioni's last film before suffering a stroke in the eighties was Identification of a Woman (1982). Beyond the Clouds is his comeback, completed with the help of German director Wim Wenders (Wings of Desire and this year's Buena Vista Social Club). It's a true international production based on four short stories from Antonioni's collection That Bowling Alley on the Tiber. The amazing cast includes: John Malkovich, Sophie Marceau, Peter Weller, Fanny Ardant, Jean Reno, Irene Jacob and, in small parts, Marcello Mastroianni and Jeanne Moreau (who were both in Antonioni's 1961 La Notte).

Beyond the Clouds stars John Malkovich as a film director (Antonioni himself if you please) who walks around looking for pictures, stories, and characters. The four stories he witnesses are all love stories of a kind, mostly with tragic twists. The first story, starring Ines Sastre and Kim Rossi-Stuart as lovers torn apart by pride, is the best and most affecting. It has moments of pure magic that remind one of L'Avventura and Antonioni's genius. But then other moments come up that suggest a man who is slightly out of touch. Some dialogue rings false and pretentious, and other scenes seem silly, such as a pantomime cat-and-mouse chase between Malkovich and Marceau in a clothing store. But most of the dialogue is brilliant and touching, such as a story of pygmies stopping on a long journey to let their souls catch up with them.

Many shots throughout the movie linger for long lovely moments, allowing us to really read emotions and thoughts into a character's face and movements. When Jean Reno arrives home and finds that his wife has moved out on him, he's given a few minutes to poke around and assess the damage (emotional and physical) before the plot resumes. Likewise, Malkovich has plenty of time to gaze onto a misty landscape, thinking about everything and nothing. It's refreshing and makes one feel full and satisfied.

One of our greatest sins in moviemaking is pretentiousness. But Antonioni by now has surely earned the right to dabble in weighty thoughts. The overall idea of Beyond the Clouds is summed up at the end; that, as a filmmaker, he has been gifted to see slightly beyond reality, but that no one will ever see the entire reality. Does this actually mean anything? Perhaps not, but what a treat to see a master of the medium back in the saddle and trying things out. The moments that work in this movie (and there are many) remind us that most other films of today still have a long way to go.

Olive Films has resurrected this obscure delight; an earlier DVD release had gone out of print. There are no extras, and it's not yet available on Blu-ray, but I'm very happy to have it at all.

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