Il Grido (The Cry) catches Michelangelo Antonioni (1912–2007) in transition from his Neorealist roots to his more personal, despairing vision. Although his earlier directorial efforts were not notably Neorealist, he had written screenplays for Roberto Rossellini, Giuseppe De Santis, and Federico Fellini. Pretty much all of the prominent figures to come out of Italian Neorealism broke away from the constraints of the movement around this time. Fellini drifted toward solipsism (he had contributed to Rossellini’s Open City and Paisan, among others); Rossellini (after his infatuation with Ingrid Bergman) seemed to go in the opposite direction, sublimating his obsessions in favor of using the cinema as an educational tool; Luchino Visconti gave full credence to his operatic vision of the world; Vittorio De Sica (never fully committed to Neorealism) continued to oscillate between serious and commercial works and acting, brilliantly, in Max Ophuls’s The Earrings of Madame de… and Rossellini’s Generale Della Rovere. (His penultimate film appearance was in Paul Morrissey’s Andy Warhol’s Dracula.) The world Antonioni depicted, beginning with his next film and first international success, L’Avventura, was, indeed, something new, and for a few years in the early 1960s the director seemed a perfect match for a reality that included a rebuilt but seemingly aimless Europe, a nearly apocalyptic missile crisis, and a general (but perhaps long overdue) crumbling of the old order.
In some sense, Il Grido wasn’t too far removed from Fellini’s La Strada, of the previous year; Il Grido used similar barren Italian landscapes, unrelieved in their ugliness. (The gifted Gianni de Venanzo became Antonioni’s regular cinematographer, and he worked with Francesco Rosi on Salvatore Giuliano and Fellini on 8 1/2 and Juliet of the Spirits before his early death.) As with Anthony Quinn and Richard Basehart in La Strada, Antonioni used the Americans Steve Cochran and Betsy Blair. Cochran’s career was a bit strange, but it may be noteworthy that he appeared with James Cagney in Raoul Walsh’s masterpiece White Heat, which climaxes on a tower similar to the one at the end of Il Grido. (Might Cochran have suggested this denouement to Antonioni?) While Alida Valli was Italian (her immediately preceding film had been Visconti’s Senso, opposite Farley Granger), she had become something of an international star through Alfred Hitchcock’s The Paradine Case and Carol Reed’s The Third Man.
Although Il Grido might easily pass for picaresque as Cochran wanders in isolation and disillusion, Antonioni’s long takes and panning camera movement paradoxically seem to render him stationary and alone. Like Monica Vitti in L’Avventura and The Red Desert, Cochran’s Aldo almost seems to share the audience‘s desire for an end to his suffering in some sensible plot resolution. (For the former film, Antonioni chose to set it on a bleak island, but The Red Desert would allow the director to return the Po Valley of his youth, which he had documented in the 1940s, and where Il Grido was filmed.) One critic has drawn parallels between Antonioni’s film and Ossessione, Visconti’s 1942 version of James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice. Visconti’s film, also shot in the Po Valley, is generally considered the beginning of Neorealism. One could also find in Il Grido’s scene of lovemaking in a field of mud the roots of the Death Valley lovemaking in the director’s 1970 Zabriskie Point.