Red Desert. 1964. Italy. Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni. Courtesy of Rizzoli Films/Photofest. © Rizzoli Films

It would be hard to overstate Michelangelo Antonioni’s influence on postwar cinema, architecture and design, fashion, literature, and philosophy, even on modern conceptions of the intellectual and the erotic. Antonioni (1912–2007), whose fascination with mediated reality only deepened over time, was a restless experimenter with composition, camera movement, cutting, and storytelling.

Presented with Luce Cinecittà, Rome, and featuring nearly 40 35mm prints and digital preservations, this first complete retrospective in New York in more than a decade celebrates the writer-director’s legendary collaborations with Monica Vitti—the trilogy of L’Avventura, L’Eclisse, and La Notte, which Pauline Kael myopically dismissed in her infamous essay “The Come-Dressed-As-the-Sick-Soul-of-Europe Parties”—as well as Red Desert, Blow-Up, and The Passenger. It also foregrounds Antonioni’s sociopolitical concerns through his neorealist documentary shorts and through his impressionistic yet incendiary Chung Kuo—China (1972), which lifted the Iron Curtain on China during the Cultural Revolution. Comparing the “antique and silent” beauty of Ferrara, his childhood town, with his “hard and hostile” experience of Rome, Antonioni might well have been describing the tensions within his own films: abstract, elliptical narratives involving men and women who are estranged from each other, from nature, and from themselves, and who drift through landscapes reflective of their existential despair and yearning.

Organized by Joshua Siegel, Curator, Department of Film, The Museum of Modern Art, and Camilla Cormanni and Paola Ruggiero, Luce Cinecittà.

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