455) Identification of a Woman (1982) Dir: Michelangelo Antonioni Date Released: Nocember 15, 1996 Date Seen: October 26, 2011 Rating: 4/5
This was supposed to run at Press Play. But it got lost in the shuffle, I suppose. Here it is anyway.
Silence is the hallmark of real intimacy in Michelangelo Antonioni’s Identification of a Woman, a character study following a restless man that can’t stop himself from talking and coaxing women into talking to him. “I’d like to be silent with a woman,” Niccolò (Tomas Milian), a listless film director, says at one point. “Have the same kind of relationship you have with nature.” This is impossible because, for most of the film, Niccolò is chasing after Mavi (Daniela Silverio), a woman he first seeks out as a potential star for his next project. Niccolò is still chasing Mavi even while he’s having sex with her. The film’s sex scenes, shot by master DP Carlo Di Palma, pay close attention to the contours of the human body and how various different parts never seem to seamlessly fit together.
Paranoia and obsession are symptoms of the human condition, as Niccolò understands it so everyone around him speaks their minds and no one remains silent for long. Even a mysterious stranger that is stalking Niccolò reminds him twice that he’s following him. This is striking because, as in L’Avventura in particular, Identification of a Woman’s plot revolves around absence and longing that isn’t expressed in explicit terms. It’s about the gaps in time and space, like the one created in the landscape by Identification’s famous fog-choked road scene, and how we choose to fill them while waiting for the inevitable. Ultimately, Niccolò’s probably more connected with his stalker than he ever was with Mavi.
The end is nigh in Identification of a Woman: one apocalyptic newspaper headline reads, “Scientists say expanding sun poses threat to Earth’s Future.” Antonioni’s characters’ either don’t know that the sky is falling or they act like they don’t see it slowly descending. To see the world, though not necessarily with an emotionally unengaged eye, and to revel in feelings of frustration and alienation: that is the role of the artist in Antonioni’s film. Niccolò interviews a bevy of women in order to research his next role and to indirectly learn more about Mavi. It’s slow and uncomfortable-going—but it’s got to be done, for his film and for himself.
The woman that gives him the most information also happens to be the one that most directly talks about Niccolò and not Mavi or any other woman. “You Italian directors seem to be paid to be angry at everything,” she says. “And laugh at it,” Niccolò spits back. That retort is very true of Antonioni’s playful direction of Identification of a Woman, a great example of which can be seen when Niccolò’s producer ponders, “What possible meaning can a love story have today with al the corruption and decay around?” He says this while slowly spinning around in a swivel chair with a magnifying glass comically poised over his right eye.
But that’s not all the woman that bursts Niccolò’s bubble has to say: she accuses Niccolò of “resisting” “everything. By contrast, she casually claims that she is, “at peace with everything that happens to me.” It’s a startling possibility and one that leads Niccolò to change the subject of his film from a film about the way women relate to each other to a science fiction project about solar exploration.
Still, it’s telling that Mavi and Niccolò’s brief but resonant relationship is mostly defined by implied actions. In the context of a world where every symptom of existential malaise is almost instantly verbally diagnosed as it occurs, silences speak volumes. Take the the aforementioned nighttime fog chase scene. Mavi is terrified with how fast Niccolò is driving through the fog and screams for him to stop. He doesn’t protest once while she shrieks. Here, in the mist, he feels safe; she does not. This is the one time Mavi’s convinced that Niccolò is right to feel on edge at the thought of being stalked by someone he’s never met. In the fog, where she can’t see her hand in front of her face, Mavi is more convinced than ever that she’s being watched.
And with good reason: Di Palma shoots the scene expertly. Woody Allen undoubtedly wanted to work with Di Palma on Shadows and Fog nine years later based on this singular scene (though it should be noted that Allen first worked with Di Palma four years before that on Hannah and Her Sisters). If Niccolò is right and, “Corruption is the cement that holds the country together,” then his alternating feelings of discomfort and ease with being surrounded by fog and separated from Mavi is a perfect encapsulation of the emotional flux that characterizes Identification of a Woman. Feelings of revulsion and attraction are inseparable, to the point where the most damning line of dialogue is one that isn’t even spoken. Mavi asks Niccolò, “Are you in love with me?” Antonioni doesn’t allow Niccolò to reply; he just cuts quickly to the next scene. But you can still hear Niccolò saying, “No,” back to Mavi just as clearly as if he had actually said it.