Pras on World Films: BEYOND THE CLOUDS (“Al Di Là Delle Nuvole “)

BEYOND THE CLOUDS comprises four short films, based on stories, ideas and sketches written by Michelangelo Antonioni, about the mysteries of love; its compulsion, its absence and its consolation.Lovingly directed by one of Italy’s greatest filmmakers, Michelangelo Antonioni’s award-winning Beyond the Clouds opened to great popular and critical acclaim in Europe, eclipsing its success when recently brought to American theaters in the mid-90’S.  

The many ways in which men are fascinated, compelled, and confused by their attraction to women are explored in this four part drama. As a filmmaker (John Malkovich) tries to sort out his plans for his next film, he considers several stories about women and the men who love them. Silvano (Kim Rossi Stuart) meets Carmen (Ines Sastre) and immediately asks her for a date, but despite his attraction, he can’t follow through on his feelings for her. The director spies a woman on the streets (Sophie Marceau) and follows her obsessively, but when he finally meets her, he’s disappointed, despite their mutual physical attraction. Roberto (Peter Weller) and his wife Patricia (Fanny Ardant) have to deal with their anger about each other’s infidelities, as well as their problems with their lovers, Olga (Chiara Caselli) and Carlo (Jean Reno). And Niccolo (Vincent Perez) falls in love at first sight with a young woman (Irene Jacob), unaware that she is studying to become a nun.

The great thing about Beyond The Clouds is that each vignette has its own distinct sentiment. There is an unrequited love to the first, a voyeuristic rapture to the second, an emotional detachment to the third and a melancholy sadness to the last. It’s an intriguing piece of cinema that’s filled with an ambiguous attitude to emotion. It flaunts a multitude of female acting talent from the likes of Fanny Ardant (8 Women [2002]), Irene Jacob (Three Colours: Red [1994]) and Sophie Marceau (The World Is Not Enough [1999]).

Eighty-six year old Italian master Michelangelo Antonioni is considered one of the greatest living directors, his prolific career spanning a fifty year period. He recently received an Academy Award for Lifetime Achievement and the American Film Institute’s highest honor. BEYOND THE CLOUDS was Michelangelo Antonioni’s first film after a massive stroke derailed his directorial career in 1985; Wim Wenders served as his collaborator on the project. Antonioni would rather focus on the intuitive sensations of life rather than developing an artificial plot. Malkovich’s character sums up Antonioni’s style as he travels on a train observing his landscape, ‘rather than thinking things over I prefer to feel them’. This is what Beyond The Clouds is all about, the exploration of human emotions and how we react to love rather than a psychological and philosophical concept of it.

Beyond the Clouds

An undoubted success in Europe, BEYOND THE CLOUDS is told from the dreamlike perspective of a wandering film director, the movie weaves four stories of love and lust, inspired by Antonioni’s writings about enigmatic, unrequited or unresolved relationships. Set in several beautiful European locales such as Portofino and Paris, the film uses striking compositions, sensuous shots of lovely nudes and a moving musical score (featuring Van Morrison, U2 and Brian Eno) to create a radiant meditation on love and desire. The film is co-directed by Wim Wenders (Buena Vista Social Club, Wings of Desire) and boasts an eclectic international cast including John Malkovich, Sophie Marceau, Irene Jacob, Jean Reno and Vincent Perez.

In the first, about ‘a relationship that lasted for years without ever existing’, a young man twice turns away from the consummation of his meeting with a gracefully beautiful woman (Inés Sastre). Before he leaves for the second time, he motions the caresses of her naked body without ever touching her, except with his breath, until, seemingly realising that they are held together in perfection by a distance from each other that can only be destroyed by touch, he leaves.

In the second, John Malkovich’s wandering film director enjoys a brief sexual liaison, in off-season Portofino, with a woman (Sophie Marceau) he learns has killed her father. The third sees Fanny Ardant and Jean Reno as the two halves of cheating spouses who find themselves alone together in an emptied room, while the last sees a young man spend an evening in the fruitless pursuit of a young woman (Irène Jacob) who has already found perfect spiritual love. The films have the strengths and weaknesses of short stories; at their enigmatic best, they leave much unsaid and intimate even more, while at other times, themes are simply abbreviated to gestures. It’s incredible though that the films exist at all. 

Beyond the Clouds was Antonioni’s first feature since a stroke 10 years before had left him partially paralysed and, barring a dozen or so words of basic Italian, without speech. He was assisted by Wim Wenders in translating his ideas into film, with Wenders providing the linking segments, including a delightful vignette with Jeanne Moreau and Marcello Mastrioanni. John Malkovich plays the roaming film director, with his words taken from Antonioni’s own writings, giving utterances such as ‘true words are shut inside’ are certain poignancy.

The DVD also includes the valuable ‘making-of’ documentary, made by Antonioni’s wife Enrica on the set of Beyond the Clouds, showing the directors’ collaborative process at work, and featuring reflections from Wenders and famed screenwriter Tonino Guerra.

Seen widely in Europe but glimpsed here only briefly at the New York Film Festival in 1996, Michelangelo Antonioni’s mournful movie was quite a shift from his earlier career, when a film like “Blow-Up” could cause an international stir. Antonioni himself has probably changed less than the moviegoing audience; this latest work deals in much the same currency as before-baffling ruminations, foggy days, empty lives, and a helpless reverence for beautiful actresses.

There are four connected stories here, set in Italy and France; all of them turn on the coupling and uncoupling of men and women, overseen by a brooding movie director (John Malkovich). Some of the characters are married; others are virtual strangers, which in the world of Antonioni amounts to the same thing. The whole enterprise is humorless and infuriating, and yet it gets to you; no one else could have summoned these twin images of arousal and graceful doom, or drawn such emotional dedication from so rich a cast-Sophie Marceau, Jean Reno, Fanny Ardant, Peter Weller, Jeanne Moreau, and the late Marcello Mastroianni, to name a few. This is the art movie to end all art movies; indeed, it feels like the end.

Michelangelo Antonioni : One of the most notorious Italian filmmakers to rise above the ruins of the Second World War has been hailed as The Maestro of cinema. His illustrious international hit L’avventura [The Adventure] was released in the same year as Fellini’s La Dolce Vita (1960). Rather than being face-to-face with down in the dirt visuals of a poverty stricken country, we were shown, what Roger Ebert refers to as a ‘cry of despair’ from ‘parasites whose money allowed them to clear away the distractions of work, responsibility, goals and purposes, and exposed the utter emptiness within’. With this in mind, L’avventura challenged our cast-iron ideals of Italian cinema.
After directing Identification of a Women in 1982, Michelangelo Antonioni became incapacitated by a stroke. Unable to communicate with words, the world thought the career of this seventy-three year old director was over. However, after thirteen years of waiting, with the help of the German filmmaker Wim Wenders (Wings of Desire [1987]), this Italian Maestro adapted four short stories from his book That Bowling Alley on the Tiber and made Beyond The Clouds. “Director Michelangelo Antonioni has authored many outstanding films as “Blowup” (1966) and “Zabriskie Point” (1970) or more controversial ones as “The Night” (1961) and “Eclipse” (1962). All of them are refined aesthetical “oeuvres d’art” and at the same time they delivered some “message”. Antonioni was 94 when he passed away on the 30th July 2007, it was the same day another cinematic giant also died, Ingmar Bergman (The Seventh Seal [1957]). (The woman who works in the clothing shop with Sophie Marceau is Antonioni’s wife Enrica.)

Director Wim Wenders has produced also some interesting film pieces as “Paris, Texas” (1984) and “Wings of Desire” Aka “The Sky over Berlin” (1987). Wim Wenders wrote an account of his experiences working on the film, My Time with Antonioni.

ACTORS:        Jean Reno / Peter Weller / Vincent Perez /  Irene Jacob / Jeanne Moreau / Fanny Ardant / Sophie Marceau / Ines Sastre / Chiara Caselli / Kim Rossi-Stuart / John Malkovich / Marcello Mastroianni
WRITERS:       Michelangelo  Antonioni / Tonino Guerra / Wim Wenders
PRODUCERS:   Philippe Carcassonne / Stephanie Tchal Gadjieff
DIRECTORS:     Michelangelo Antonioni

Film Length:    109 mins
Studio:     Image Entertainment
Production Year:   1995

DVD Features:  Documentary on Director Michelangelo Antonioni: To Make A Film Is To Be Alive

One thought on “Pras on World Films: BEYOND THE CLOUDS (“Al Di Là Delle Nuvole “)

  1. Pingback: PRAS ON WORLD FILMS: Your 2012 Visit Experience Summarized | Praschaudhuri on Films

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