Friday 7 August 2020

On Blu-ray - David Hare welcomes a new restoration of CRONACA DI UN AMORE (Michelangelo Antonioni, Italy, 1950)

Above we can see an already classically Antonioni-esque staging of a man and a woman in his first feature film, Cronaca di un Amore in 1950. The woman of course is Antonioni's squeeze at the time, the now late Lucia Bose. 
The screen is from a new Blu-ray released by UK label Cult Films for Region B. The source appears to be from a 2005 restoration which was completed by Cinecitta. There was no O-Neg in existence and this combination of photochemical work and digital correction was undertaken in what is now almost restoration technology prehistory. The principal source was a 35mm lavender, a non-screenable high value positive which is not suitable for viewing but is an ideal source for creating a new internegative. There are still traces of gate weave (or possibly shrinkage) through a couple of reels and small density issues, but in general the master for this is not bad, and is totally revelatory after the now decades old PAL and NTSC DVDs which were technically atrocious, and frankly unwatchable. 
It's always things like this that ultimately retard the ongoing reputation of great films, especially a movie as rarely seen as this. Suffice to say the contemporary criticisms of Cronaca from the Italian neo-realist Brotherhood in the late 40s of its adoption of an upper middle class milieu and characters as some sort of betrayal of a so-called "movement" is ludicrous- "neo-realism" was something that barely existed beyond a few years in what was largely a political invention of the left's arts mafia after the war. 
In the long, long time since Antonioni's death I would have hoped all those mythologies of a movement that basically comprised a dozen or so films with the same couple of directors and writers, would have been abandoned for something less shorthand and a more substantial analysis of the many auteurist paths Italian cinema took after WW2.
If Cronaca owes anything to any school of "realism" it's to the writers' snappy adaptation of James M. Cain's “The Postman Always Rings Twice”. Visconti's own masterful feature length debut in 1943, Ossessione was also a blind rip-off of the Cain, and Visconti's film made a star of Massimo Girotti as the guy on the lam who's entrusted to commit the murder. Thus there is some poetic license in the way Antonioni writes the firmly middle-class role of Guido for Girotti seven years later in his partial remake of the Cain.  
Antonioni's "realism", to paraphrase the great art writer Clement Greenberg, was one of the 27 variations of style in art, notably existential. Or was it Herbert Read? In any case Antonioni ends his first masterpiece with Guido vowing to see Paola again soon, but never intending to, just as they've both been cleared of the death of her industrialist husband. It's a final scene of denial that predicts the closing last wordless and people-less shots of L'Eclisse.

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