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02/08/2007

New beauty from the Old World

Arno Widmann comments on The New York Times' obituary of Michelangelo Antonioni

The New York Times entitled its obituary of Italian film director Michelangelo Antonioni - whose literary works are unfortunately little-known - with the words: "A Chronicler of Alienated Europeans in a Flimsy New World." The title underscores the hopelessness of Old Europe's position. Even before the article began, it made clear how small and thoroughly passé the Old Europe - and one of its most astute representatives - look in the new world of the present.



Monica Vitti

Even Antonionis's moralism, which consisted of little more than taking a close, observant look at his subject, apparently bothered the transatlantic obituary writer. The quick succession of the deaths of Bergman and Antonioni seemed to fill him with a sense of relief. No obituary of the filmmakers makes it as clear how necessary they were - and how bitterly we will miss them - as this attempt to portray them as spectres of a morose, gloomy old Europe, unable to accept the lightness of being.



Monica Vitti and Alain Delon

It's only natural to regard this as an American reaction. After all, that's where it's from. But then we catch ourselves out at times when we too are in "no mood for problems," and prefer to watch the talk show "Genial daneben"over Bergman's "The Silence." There's nothing to be said against that. Or is there? Back in the days when everything was put in question, "stop making sense" was a good watchword. In those days it was a war cry against a form of rationality whose unlimited pretensions made it border on the irrational.



Michelangelo Antonioni

But when nothing is questioned any more, when only laughter counts, when people over 60 watch film-versions of Rosamunde Pilcher romances and anyone younger watches comedy, the time has come to seek once more the earnestness we're making fun of. When everything had to be tone-in-tone, when a tight-fitting suit and teased hair were the ne plus ultra of the feminine aesthetic, it was good to throw a little dirt on the cream-coloured costumes. But nowadays when trash rules, we feel a longing for the clear, full-screen beauty of the young Monica Vitti.




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The article originally appeared in German in the Frankfurter Rundschau on August 2, 2007.

Arno Widmann is feuilleton editor of the Frankfurter Rundschau.

Translation: jab.
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