Michelangelo Antonioni returns to his birthplace for his directorial swansong, Par-delà les nuages (Beyond the Clouds), a gorgeous-looking quartet of erotic tales, co-directed by Wim Wenders, dealing with love and desire that harks back to auteur-lead anthology films like Spirits of the Dead and Boccaccio ’70.
From out of the clouds, an American film director (John Malkovich) arrives in Europe in search of inspiration for his next picture. What follows are four stories, each about the hypnotic effect women can have on men, including the director himself – who literally stalks Sophie Marceau’s husband killer in a deserted, off-season, Portofino.
This really is Men Are from Mars, Women Are From Venus territory. But feminists beware, as Antonioni makes no excuses in portraying women the way he sees them, which means breasts and lots of them – exposed by some of Europe’s leading actresses.
In the first tale, set in the fog-shrouded streets of Ferrara, Silvano (Kim Rossi Stuart) meets Carmen (Ines Sastre) and asks her out on a date. But despite his attraction, he can’t follow through on his feelings for her. Cue: sex and some lovely scenery.
The film then moves to Paris, where New Yorker Roberto (Peter Weller speaking perfect French) starts an affair with an Italian girl (Chiara Caselli). But despite his stale marriage to the drunken Patricia (Fanny Ardant), he still loves her.
Also in Paris, Carlo (Jean Reno) arrives in his swanky apartment by the Seine to find his wife and furniture gone. When Ardant’s Patricia arrives to view the apartment, she reveals that she too has left her husband and taken the furniture as well. Cue: a caress, and the possibility of something new.
In the final – and best story of the feature – set in that French tourist Mecca, Aix-en-Provence, a young woman (Irene Jacob) leads the desperately-in-love Niccolo (Vincent Perez) on as he persistently follows her to church, unaware that she is to become a nun. No wonder some men turn gay, poor Niccolo.
Beautifully shot, with a terrific score (thanks to Van Morrison and U2), Beyond the Clouds, is gentle, reflective walk through love’s labour’s lost – although Malkovich’s ponderings do get a little tiresome.
There’s also a great cameo from the legendary Marcello Mastroianni and Jeanne Moreau as two old-timers debating the worthiness of copying an artist’s work at the 1hr 16hr mark, while the extras are best left for film school students.
Released 14 September