Identification of a Woman Review
By placing Michelangelo Antonioni's 1960 masterpiece L'avventura at one end of the spectrum and his short film The Dangerous Thread of Things, from 2004's omnibus Eros, on the other, you can sort of make out Identification of a Woman as the enigmatic middle. It's even perfectly situated for inventory purposes, having debuted in 1982, the dead middle point between the other pair of works. All three are coolly sensual, difficult and mysterious, yet compelling in their own way. The most recent piece lands with a thud while L'avventura has become critically beyond reproach, leaving Identification of a Woman to again linger in between. It feels like something is missing with each one, but that's Antonioni's gambit - profundity via confusion.
His films appeal to our innate desire to question and not be told the details. The impact of Identification of a Woman may lead with the viewer attempting to understand or piece together exactly what kind of story is being told, but it's just as likely to conclude with astonished bewilderment. Deciphering whether this is a positive or a negative is the crux of the film. Is it simply enough to keep an audience enraptured with an empty story and memorable images, or should there be something more tangible at work? Of course, then there's the argument whether the lives of Antonioni protagonists are truly empty, intentionally empty, inauthentically empty, etc. His lead character here blurs reality to an almost uncomfortable extent by being situated as a film director, one whose marriage has recently dissolved and who seems slightly obsessed with finding a young leading lady, either to bed or to film or both.
Niccolo (played by Tomas Milian) is the filmmaker, taking Antonioni's first Italian film production since 1964's Il Deserto rosso (The Red Desert) into territory notably explored by Fellini in his 8½. Identification of a Woman is far less obvious in its parallels to "reality," but that's as much due to Antonioni's constant cloaking of any sort of easily identifiable truth as it is the actual film. There are still obvious touches into what we think of as prototypical director behaviour. An almost disturbing casualness takes Niccolo to Mavi (Daniela Silverio). They flirt, make small talk, have sex, argue, have more sex, breach emotional intimacy, and eventually she leaves him without a trace. As with L'avventura, the pivotal moment in the film's plot is when she disappears, though here it occurs much further into the film. Also, Mavi simply is leaving Niccolo and hasn't been abducted or injured or anything of the sort.
His determined insistence on tracking Mavi down feels strange. It can't really be said that it's out of character since we know next to nothing about Niccolo in the first place, but there does seem to be an odd obsession involved. Should we discern that he's in love with her or that he simply didn't appreciate being spited? It's difficult to know for sure. The former reasoning is countered by a new, even more nubile young actress in Niccolo's bed. Ida (Christine Boisson) seems completely open to Niccolo's creepy amateur detective work, even helping him with some common sense details. What are her motivations here? Niccolo's industry clout? His supposed maturity and experience? We're not told. We're not hinted in any direction. We simply don't know. Is this Antonioni out of touch with reality or is he implying something? Again, it's difficult to pin down.
This is both the genius and the frustration of the film. By keeping everything at multiple arms' length, Antonioni can craft something as shallow and frustrating as he wants. Those who fall for it will be mesmerised and won over while the non-believers can point out how vapid the entire proceedings are. At a remarkably simple and basic level, the film passes the test of remaining embedded in the viewer's consciousness long after its ending credits. It's absolutely hard to shake and even more difficult to figure out why you should care. There's simply nothing exceptional about any of these characters, a frequent trait of Antonioni films, but they nonetheless resonate on some basic human level of curiosity. Niccolo comes across as a one-dimensional nonentity and his female friends aren't any better.
It's in the depiction of scenes and images not easily dismissed that Antonioni's film most resonates. "What did God do before creating the world?," asks Mavi, and how do you either answer such a question or allow it to leave your mind. A beautifully murky fog engulfs Niccolo and Mavi at separate times and it too cannot be forgotten. Surely Antonioni realised that his work was the cinematic equivalent of fog. The films exist often without penetration, available for slight passage, but perpetually unclear. We make our way through them, never completely understanding what we're entering. At their most successful, Antonioni's films maintain a total immersion into the false world he's built on celluloid. Identification of a Woman comes up a little short in that regard, but its impact is still noteworthy. There really is nowhere to go from here. With Antonioni, it's day by day, life by life. Trying to determine meaning or understanding is as hopeless and vital as ever.
On the positive side, Mr. Bongo's region-free PAL release is dual-layered, anamorphic in the 1.85 aspect ratio and progressively transferred. Unfortunately, it does have a few other problems. Colours are slightly dull and detail isn't quite as sharp as one would hope. There's also an abundance of digital noise at times. Nonetheless, this release is the English language debut of the film and the price is amazingly right. The print is clean. The transfer is absolutely never less than watchable. Given the very reasonable cost, the film looks appropriate, and a highlight of Mr. Bongo's varying output. Something better may come along in R1, but, for now, this release is worth owning.
Audio is presented in an Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track. It's low in volume, but the extremely dated synth score and dialogue are easily heard without issue. Optional subtitles are available in English only, white in colour. The font looks slightly large for my taste and there's also an annoying effect where the words fade instead of simply disappearing. A few spelling errors are noticeable, as are some instances where dialogue is simply left unsubtitled. Overall, the subtitles are manageable but there's definite room for improvement.
It's disappoining to find zero extra features on the Mr. Bongo release. This is a film that begs for some supplemental material similar to Criterion's twin Antonioni releases of L'avventura and L'eclisse. The Italian release of Identification of a Woman even had an interview with frequent Antonioni collaborator Tonino Guerra, which apparently Mr. Bongo either failed to obtain the rights to or was unable to provide subtitles for English language audiences. At one point, it was listed on the Mr. Bongo website, along with a few other extras, as being included with the release, but we have nothing in the final product.
Last updated: 18/04/2018 22:44:40