Synopsis: Legendary directors Michelangelo Antonioni (L’avventura) and Wim Wenders (Wings Of Desire) teamed up to create this modern masterpiece, “Beyond The Clouds”. Told from the dreamlike perspective of a wandering film director, the movie weaves four stories of love and lust, inspired by Antonioni’s book 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 to create a radiant meditation on love and desire. The film features music from Van Morrison, U2, and Brian Eno and boasts an eclectic international cast including John Malkovich, Sophie Marceau, Irene Jacob, Jean Reno, Peter Weller, Vincent Perez, Fanny Ardant and special appearances by screen legends Marcello Mastroianni and Jeanne Moreau.
eyelights: the incredibly diverse cast. the format. the cinematography. its philosophical musings. its sexy bits.
eyesores: its slow pace. the inscrutability of some of the pieces.
“Love is ridiculous. It has to be said. It’s an illusion, a trap. But the trap is mysterious, so we all fall into it.”
I know very little about Michelangelo Antonioni’s career. Aside for ‘Eros’, which is inspired by him and in which is featured his last (short) film, I don’t think I’ve seen any of his other works – despite being familiar with his name. I even have a few of his films, but they never made it to the top of my priority list.
‘Al di là delle nuvole’, however, intrigued me – partly because of its nebulous DVD cover, partly because it suggested something sexy (it was just an impression; I actually knew very little about this one). It turns out that it was Antonioni’s last feature film, having suffered a debilitating stroke ten years earlier.
And so, for insurance purposes (to ensure that the film would be completed if something happened to him), another director needed to be attached to it. He picked Wim Wenders, who filmed bookending material, cowrote (it is based on four short stories that Antonioni published in 1986) and helped complete the film.
The concept is simple: a film director (played by John Malkovich) is on a plane to Italy, looking out beyond the clouds, contemplating in a voice-over his next film, talking about inspiration and creative forces. Then he drives round Italy looking for that spark, setting the stage for the first story in this anthology.
The picture, which is a French-German-Italian co-production, is a mix of Italian, English and French and stars an impressive array of relatively well-known American and European actors and actresses. Although it’s an anthology, each story is loosely tied together by interludes of the director wandering about.
1. In Italy, a beautiful young man (Kim Rossi Stuart) is looking for a hotel room, and asks an equally beautiful young woman (Inés Sastre) for suggestions. After he gets to the place she’s recommended, he discovers that she’s staying there too. They walk around, talk, begin to romance each other. But they go to their own bedrooms and remain there.
They only see other again years later. Making up for lost time, she takes him to her place. But he hesitates, leaves, then comes back. They begin to make slow, tender, erotic love, and then he gets up and leaves midway, without a word or explanation. They share a look through her window as he walks away and never see each other again.
It was unclear to me why he behaved the way he did, but I loved this portrait of perfect yet, imperfect love. I especially like the atmosphere. And pretty people are always lovely to look at. 7.75
2. The director (Malkovich) follows a young woman (Sophie Marceau) to the clothing shop she works in. It feels like he’s stalking her, and yet she is impressed with him for some reason and asks her colleague to leave. They flit about each other, but he leaves without saying a word.
They meet again later in the courtyard of a local bar, and they decide to go for a walk together. She confesses to him that she murdered her father a year ago and did three months’ time for it – after which she takes him home and they make love. Nothing else comes of it (no pun intended).
As intriguing as this one was, Sophie Marceau is so beautiful that it was mind-boggling to me that her character would be slumming it with John Malkovich, who was bald and out of shape by then. As much as I was pleased to see her in the nude, it was an implausible situation. Plus which she overacted. Hmph. 7.0
3. In a French café, a young woman (Chiara Caselli) accosts an older man (Peter Weller) to tell him about something she just read in a magazine. Flash forward three years later, and the man arrives home to find his spouse (Fanny Ardant) upset, giving him an ultimatum: he must choose between her and the young woman, whom he’s been seeing all this time.
He goes back and forth between the two, making promises he doesn’t have the strength to keep – because he lusts after both, and they each find ways to weaken his resolve each time.
Later, in a seemingly separate segment, we find a man (Jean Reno) returning home to find that his spouse has moved out to go live with her lover. Ironically, she’s offered to rent the apartment to Fanny Ardant’s character, who is also leaving her own spouse. She and the man connect.
I’m not sure quite why I quite enjoyed this one, awkwardly-constructed though it was.7.75
3.5 I’m not sure what this is about, but there was a very short cameo by Marcello Mastroianni and Jeanne Moreau (who were both in Antonioni’s ‘La Notte’ thirty years earlier) as, respectively, a painter painting a landscape and a passerby who comments on his work. They then discuss the value of copying things for art and consumption.
It made no impression on me whatsoever, and I have no idea what its intended contribution to the film is.
4. A French artist (Vincent Perez), sees a pristine young woman (Irène Jacob) leave the building he was meeting someone in and decides to follow her around, having philosophical discussions with her. He even follows her to Church, where she prays daily, but falls asleep and loses track of her.
He eventually finds her by a fountain and continues his discussion with her, falling for her more and more. Except that she has no room to love him, as her love of God is stronger and all-encompassing.
It was an intriguing bit, not unlike ‘Before Sunrise‘, but the artist’s attraction to the young woman was unclear (was it solely because he found her enigmatic?). Still, Vincent Perez has never been better. 7.25
‘Al di là delle nuvole’ is pleasing to the eye, filled with beautiful people and with shots that are really nicely framed (Alfio Contini won an award for his cinematography), but it leaves one a little unfulfilled; it’s not quite clear what Antonioni was exploring, if anything at all, and it feels disjointed in some way.
But it’s still an enjoyable film and it has enough compelling moments in it to warrant a viewing. I don’t know how much replay value it might have, but it’s certainly the kind of film one could watch on a lazy Sunday afternoon. At the very least, it’s worth it for the quality of its cast and the variety of its segments.
Date of viewing: January 16, 2016