Antonioni’s End of Existence – Part Four

christopher sly

::If you haven’t yet, read Antonioni’s End of Existence – Part One, Part Two, and Part Three::

Having discussed the trilogy, I now want to mention films that are similar to them in style and form, adeptly conveying to the viewer the feeling of alienation and disorientation of living in these times.

The first is Jacques Tati’s Playtime.  In this film, Tati’s protagonist and alter ego, a representation of traditional Paris, wanders around lost in a modern Paris, trying to find his way around and feel his way through an unfamiliar new world, as he attempts to complete an errand. As he wanders, we glimpse the obstacles he goes through and the difficulties and idiosyncrasies of living in a modern metropolis.

Similar to Antonioni, Tati also masterfully uses the long shot to show his world, each shot containing a wealth of information by using not only the expanse of the frame, but also depth.  Like Antonioni, there are also long takes that allow the viewer to consider the composition and content.  Again, these long takes and long shots, along with the sterile steel and glass architecture, dwarfing the people wandering within them, give a feeling of emptiness, of coldness.

Unlike Antonioni, however, Tati views the alienation of this world with a bit of humor, as incidents occur as a result of the designs and flaws of the modern city that lead to hilarious results. Moreover, Tati is optimistic about this new world.  It may have the appearance of newness, but underneath, though it may take some searching, the same familiarity and warmth can be found, most notably in the spirit of its inhabitants.

I would have to say that the films most similar to Antonioni’s work belong to those of Taiwan’s New Wave.  The New Wave consists of a generation of Taiwan filmmakers starting in the early 80’s whose films reflect the daily life and the social and political realities of modern Taiwan – specifically, the effects of the quick industrialization and urbanization on life, and the social realities resulting from the imposition of the Nationalist party on the natives of Taiwan, after the Communists took over China.

Similar to the West, the modernization of Taiwan has also had the consequence of altering traditional foundations of life, most noticeably, the dismantling of the family and the mechanization of work, to the extent that people become isolated and also experience the alienation and purposelessness that is prevalent in the West.

A few directors that represent this group are Hou Hsiao-Hsien, Tsai Ming-Liang, and Edward Yang.  Like Antonioni, the directors of the New Wave are proponents of using long shots and long takes in their films, allowing the viewer to contemplate the composition of each frame.  The Taiwan New Wave directors take this a step further, however, by further limiting the amount of cuts and limiting camera movement, as well as movement and activity within the shot, as if life had reached a standstill or had completely stopped.

Dialogue is sparse. almost non-existent.  Also non-existent is the classical narrative.  The films consist of a series of events, eliding the story, and usually follow their characters in real time, as in the scenes in Antonioni’s movies that follow a character wandering through a particular setting. The exception to this lack of narrative seems to be Edward Yang, though the only film I have seen of his is Yi Yi.

Good examples of Taiwan New Wave films most similar to Antonioni’s trilogy include Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s Dust in the Wind and Millennium Mambo, and Tsai Ming-Liang’s What Time Is It There?

This is not to say that the work of the Taiwan New Wave are the direct descendents of Antonioni, or that they take their influence from him (I have not done enough research into that to find out, either way), but just to note that it is interesting that given similar historical circumstances, the films that follow have similar style and theme.  It remains to be seen though if it is generally the case that a particular set of historical circumstances determine or predict what kind of film will result.

March 19, 2009 5:53 pm

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