“Chaharshanbe Suri” - Asghar Farhadi (2006)

Chaharshanbe Suri (Fireworks Wednesday, 2006) is an Iranian domestic drama directed by Asghar Farhadi that outlines the strains and emotional agonies of an urban couple in the course of a single day. It won the prize for best feature at the 42nd Chicago Film Festival in 2006. The title refers to the evening before the last Wednesday of the Iranian year, which traditionally sets off the Iranian New Year (“Nowrouz”) festivities that last for a few weeks. The activities on this night are part of the traditional Persian culture and predate the advent of Islam by at least two thousand years. Every year on that evening, Iranians set up fires on the streets all over the city, with boys eager to leap over them for the traditional good luck that it may bring. It is an evening full of brightly lit fires and firecrackers that boys tend to look forward to, and so it might compare a bit to the American Halloween.

On the morning of this day at the beginning of the film, an innocent young woman, Rouhi, who is engaged to be married later that week, gets a ride on the back of her fiance’s motorcycle to the cleaning agency where she works. Her assignment that day is to clean the apartment of a middle class couple, Morteza and Mojdeh, and it doesn’t taker her long to see that the couple are seriously quarreling. The rest of the film traces the marital struggles that this couple undergoes, as seen primarily from the eyes of Rouhi. The focalization is not exclusively on Rouhi, though, and the viewer sometimes views separate scenes from the perspectives of Morteza and Mojdeh.

The details of what lies behind the couple’s problems are revealed only gradually, through slow disclosure, and after awhile it becomes more clear that Mojdeh is jealous of her husband’s suspected infidelity with an unmarried beautician, Mrs. Simi, who lives and works in the next-door apartment. Rouhi, enthralled as she is with romantic dreams about her upcoming marital bliss, is appalled to see how Morteza and Mojdeh treat each other. Mojdeh is temperamental and obsessively bad-tempered towards her husband. Morteza, in turn, is abrupt, rude, and insensitive towards his wife’s worries, which he views as obsessive jealousy. It is not simply a case of bickering, but one of seething mutual hostility. Little by little, Rouhi finds herself getting involved in the machinations of this argument. She is lured by Mojdeh into visiting and spying on Mrs. Simi for an eyebrow trim. Subsequently she repeatedly and inadvertently makes innocent comments concerning what she has heard in separate conversations with Mrs. Simi, Morteza, and Mojdeh, and those comments are leapt upon by each of her interlocutors as suspicious evidence of potential malfeasance by someone else.

The basic problem, as it is in all societies East and West, is due to, or at least exacerbated by, the relatively restrictive stereotypical roles that are assigned to everyone in adult society. Husbands often expect their wives to play the role of the perfect self-sacrificing homemaker, while wives expect their husbands to attend to all of their wives' whims and perpetually to place their wives at the center of their attention. Because of the commonality of such situations everywhere, the basic social issues of role expectations and marital infidelity are virtually universal and apprehensible to everyone. But despite this universality, the film does not take on the fundamental and even more universal philosophical issues that have underlain some of the most profound Iranian cinematic works. After awhile, in fact, the viewer might begin to get a little impatient with the overwrought histrionics of the sparring married couple in this film. So it is something of a relief when Rouhi sometimes spends time in the company of the more benign and understanding Mrs. Simi. Mrs. Simi, we later learn, has her own personal difficulties, but she is able to see the positive side of all situations. The viewers’ sympathies are thus much more likely to lie with Rouhi and Mrs. Simi than with the discordant Morteza and Mojdeh. In the end there is a resolution of sorts to the problem, although the viewer may have his or her doubts.

The acting in Chaharshanbe Suri is good, though it occasionally borders on the theatrical. Taraneh Alidoosti, as the ingenue Rouhi, has a winning smile, but any character development on her part during the film is obscure, and she may be playing more for the camera than for the story. She does make a dramatic intervention that affects the relationship between Morteza and Mojdeh, but her motivations are not entirely clear. Hedye Tehrani, in the difficult role of Mojdeh and who also played in Ghobadi's Half Moon, manages to maintain a believably restrained intensity throughout. The mostly hand-held cinematography is reasonably smooth and exhibits the kind of visual creativity often required to make a film in urban Iran, with all the various restrictions that such a setting can entail. Peyman Yazdanian's music contributes to the melancholy mood of the story.

The significance of the title, “Chaharshanbe Suri”, to the thematic content is not very evident, other than to suggest the pyrotechnics on display between the married couple. But an interesting culture-specific detail is displayed on the occasion when Mojdeh steals Rouhi’s chador (full veil) in order to go spying on her husband in “disguise”. As a middle-class woman, Mojdeh normally wears “rusari” (modest clothing with head scarf) and apparently doesn’t even own a chador.

My only quarrel with the film is that while it lays bare the problems of marital life, it does not seem to come to a satisfying narrative resolution. There are suggestions at the close of the film that Rouhi may have to face her own difficulties in connection with what her husband will expect from her in the future, even though he is infatuated with her now. So what has Rouhi learned after the day’s experiences, and how might they prepare her for the future? At the end of the film, Rouhi is almost about to meddle one more time and spill the beans, thereby erasing her earlier benevolent intervention. What does that tell us? And what is the future of Morteza and Mojdeh? The seas are relatively calmed at the close of the film, but troubled waters probably lie ahead for everyone.

“Kheili Dour, Kheili Nazdik” - Reza Mirkarimi (2005)

Kheili Dour, Kheili Nazdik (So Close, So Far, also known as Too Close, Too Far Away, 2005) is an award-winning Iranian film directed by Reza Mirkarimi, who also produced and co-authored the work. It tells the story of a prominent neurosurgeon, played by Masoud Rayegany, whose life is suddenly jolted when he learns that his son is terminally ill.

The film begins a few days before the Iranian New Year’s (“Nowruz”) celebration with a depiction of various activities and involvements of Dr. Mahmoud Alem, an upper-class neurosurgeon in Tehran who is high enough up in his profession to be interviewed on television talk shows. In these episodes the viewer gradually gets a picture of Dr. Alem’s life through the process of slow disclosure. He drives a Mercedes-Benz, lodges thousand-dollar wagers over the Internet on horse races, and engages in dodgy, ethically-questionable schemes to charge exorbitant fees. In fact he is so absorbed in his own activities that he doesn’t have time to attend a party for his eighteen-year-old son, Saman. We also learn that he and wife are separated and that she lives in some other, apparently Western, country.

The Iranian Nowrouz is the major holiday of the year, and most Iranians go off on vacation during that time. Since his son is an enthusiastic amateur astronomer, Dr. Alem is planning to give Saman an expensive telescope. But Saman wants to use the holiday period to go off into the Iranian desert with a group of fellow astronomy enthusiasts in order to better observe the stars, and he departs on the trip before his father, preoccupied with his own activities, can give him the telescope. Just at this time, though, Dr. Alem is sent a clinical magnetic resonance imaging report about his son’s health, which indicates that his son is terminally ill with brain cancer. Though Saman is only experiencing occasional headaches and nausea now, it is evident to the doctor that his son has only weeks to live. As the crushing news weighs in on him, the doctor realizes that he has essentially neglected his son over the years. Though they have been living in the same house, they have for some time been far away from each other.

At this point, the day before Nowrouz, the doctor, wanting to be at his son’s side, sets off in his car and heads to the desert village of Mesr. Quickly, from the urban hustle and bustle of Iran – crowded with traffic jams, cell phones, digital cameras, and the Internet – the action now shifts to the road and the pace of life in the desolate and sparsely-populated desert. The journey is, of course, metaphorical, as the doctor seeks not only to find his son, but to find an authentic and meaningful connection with his son -- and perhaps to find himself, too.

The doctor meets a number of people along the way, but the key encounter is with the young woman doctor who attends to the village of Mesr. This woman, played by the soulfully beautiful Elham Hamidi, immediately recognizes and virtually idolizes the famous Dr. Alem, and then proceeds to describe the circumstances of life in the town. She informs him that his son has already left for a further remote location in the desert, which is an old mine that is almost a day’s drive away, and she convinces him to spend the night in the town and set out for the mine location the next morning. In the meantime Dr. Alem, steeped in Western science and technology, pensively observes the tradition-bound ways and beliefs of the country people. They seem to be happy, but the scope of their lives seems so limited, and he mentally scoffs at their superstitions and their blind faith in God’s will. The only thing that can save people, according to his compass, is science and skill, not fate or luck. But even that has its limits, and he realizes that he, himself, with all his technical training, can do nothing to save his own son.

Curiously, the film implies that cell phone towers seem to be set up in the remote regions of the eastern-central Iranian desert, because Dr. Alem manages to contact his son and girlfriend by using his mobile phone. Learning that his son has had a further seizure, he urgently sets out alone in his Mercedes early in the morning. But the Iranian desert is treacherous and subject to sudden, overwhelming sandstorms. The doctor eventually runs out of gas and is then trapped in his car as a sandstorm sweeps across the plain. Very early in the film, Alm had once coolly explained to a distressed mother that her terminally comatose son was better off dead and should be taken off life-support. He explained to her that it was like being trapped at the bottom of an abandoned well in the middle of the desert, with noone there to help you or communicate with you. Now Alem finds himself in the same intractable situation.

Dr. Alemhad originally rushed to the desert to be at his son’s side, even knowing that he could not save him; but now he is powerless even to save himself. What finally happens at the end of the film offers a narrative resolution, but is open to interpretation. Breathing his last breaths of oxygen-diminished air, Alem sees the overhead door of his Mercedes being opened by rescuers. Then he hears his son’s voice and sees his hand extended towards him. This could be interpreted in three different ways:
  • It is a wishful dream, a hallucination. It is a final moment before his death when he realizes the lost opportunity of being a nurturing father to his son.
  • His son and companions have found and saved him. He is restored to life in this physical world.
  • He is joining his son, but in the next world, not in this world. The extended hand is the agency of the God that Alem doesn’t believe in.
According to all three interpretations, Alem has surrendered, but this surrender, to me, does not appear to coincide with enlightenment and spiritual fulfilment.

The title of the film, "Kheili Dour, Kheili Nazdik”, means “very far, very close” in English, but it also suggests the phrase, “so near and yet so far”. This theme is reflected in numerous circumstances in the film. Saman refers to it explicitly when describing over the phone to the woman doctor in Mesr the relative distances of various stars from Earth. But there are other symbolic references, as well. Alem is physically close to a number of people, including his son and the people of eastern Iran, and yet he is far away from them in spirit. The closing shot further evokes this theme.

The themes and issues of Kheili Dour, Kheili Nazdik suggest affinities with Majid Majidi’s work – particularly, Father (Pedar, 1996), The Color of Paradise (Rang-e Khoda, 1999), and The Willow Tree (Beed-e Majnoon, 2005) – as well as with Kieslowski’s Dekalog 1: ‘I am the Lord, thou shalt have no other gods before Me’ (1989). But I do not feel that Kheili Dour, Kheili Nazdik has matched the high standards of those works. Although it won the first prize at the 2005 Fajr Film Festival (the national Iranian film awards), it doesn’t quite resonate across the spiritual dimensions as those other films do.

The cinematography also took top honors at that festival, but it, too, has some limitations. While many of the shots, especially in the desert, are stunning and atmospheric, one gets the feeling that some of the framing and compositions were done merely for decorative purposes, rather than for narrative continuity. And the number and length of straight-on camera shots of Dr. Alem facing the camera seem more to interrupt the flow, rather than to evoke effectively the mental and emotional state of the character.

Nevertheless, there are many interesting images and moments in this film, which is a worthy continuation of the Iranian focus on “what it is all about”.

“His Girl Friday” - Howard Hawks (1940)

Director Howard Hawks was notable for his popular successes over a long career and across almost all film genres. Though he was championed by both French New Wave critics and by Andrew Sarris, Hawks’s so-called “no-nonsense” style often seems merely conventional, and in fact many of his lesser films are distinctly run-of-the-mill. So his status as one of the preeminent film auteurs remains somewhat enigmatic. One of his most enduringly popular films, the comedy His Girl Friday (1940), is exemplary of some of these contradictions.

The story of His Girl Friday was based on the popular Broadway play, The Front Page (1928), by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, which had been successfully filmed in 1931 by Lewis Milestone and was reprised in 1974 by Billy Wilder. The single set for that original play was the Press Room near Chicago’s Criminal Courts building and jail. The plot describes how a Chicago newspaper reporter, Hildy Johnson, enters the pressroom announcing to his colleagues his intended retirement from journalism but is immediately lured back into the exciting world of journalistic scooping by an improbable series of events involving murder, a jailbreak, and corrupt politics.

Hawks’s film version, which starred Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell and Ralph Bellamy, suffers from a number of immediately apparent deficiencies, and yet it clearly surpasses the Milestone and Wilder versions and ranks among the most popular movies ever. The reasons for that may be due to Hawks, or perhaps simply to some good fortune of alternate casting.

The principal deficiencies of His Girl Friday are straightforward to enumerate:
  • The film is very stagy, focused as it is on basically two locations, the newsroom of the Chicago Morning Star newspaper and the Chicago courthouse pressroom.
  • The camera setups are conventional and relatively flat, with mostly constant-distance shots.
  • The plot features ridiculously improbable events that go beyond all limits of plausibility.
  • The acting is so tongue-in-cheek and smirky that one feels that many of the players are not taking their roles seriously. It all appears to be something of put-on. Cary Grant is particularly guilty here, but he manages to pull it off, because, well, he’s Cary Grant.
And yet despite these drawbacks, the film succeeds. Why?
  • One of the attractions can be associated with Hawks’s characteristic focus on male “gang” camaraderie and bonding that underpins the action. This always played to good effect in his war films and gangster films. Here, it is the group-loyalty of the Chicago press corps that Hawks accentuates. And after all, that is the key seduction that lures both Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell) and her editor boss, Walter Burns (Cary Grant).
  • A second positive feature of this film is the accentuated overlapping dialogue that intensifies the pace of the excited journalists chasing down the story. This broke with conventions in the sound era that tried to ensure that dialogue was distinct and clearly heard. In this case, some of the repartee involves people talking over each other, with one person starting up before another is finished. Hawks ensured that the dialogue was written so that even when the beginnings and endings of sentences might be lost in the noise, the dialogue could still be understood.
  • A third, essentially crucial, feature of His Girl Friday, was Hawks’s decision to cast the role of Hildy Johnson as a woman, instead of the male casting for that role in the original play. This added an interesting gender-conflict feature to the journalism story, as well as contributing an underlying and parallel romantic element.
  • But the most crucial feature of all to what makes the film a success is not due to Hawks; it is in spite of him. It is Rosalind Russell’s magnetic performance as Hildy Johnson that is the driving force behind the film’s success. Yet she was at least Hawsks’s ninth-choice for that role, after a number of leading actresses had all turned Hawks down for the part. But Russell proved to the key ingredient. Since Hawks allowed some ad-libbing on the set, Russell took advantage and filled out her role during the shooting. She later confessed that she even hired a writer to provide lines that could help her beef up her role.
Ultimately, this is Rosalind Russell’s film. She had the electricity, charm, and feminine magic to make the audience overlook all the cracks and corny inadequacies of the story and staging. And Hawks, at least, deserves the credit for finally giving her the space to do it.

“Kaze no Jûtan” - Kamal Tabrizi (2003)

Kaze no Jûtan (The Wind Carpet, 2003), a Japanese-Iranian coproduction, tells the story of cultural accommodation when a Japanese man, Makoto, visits Iran with his young daughter, Sakura. Iranian director Kamal Tabrizi is more famous for his succeeding film, Marmoulak (2004), but this effort has some intriguing elements and deserves attention.

The plot, which falls into the category of a heartwarming human story, begins in Takayama, Japan, where a cultural festival is in preparation. Kinue Nagai is an artistic designer steeped in the knowledge of Persian carpet designs, and her businessman husband, Makoto, arranges to have one of her designs made into a Persian carpet that will be presented at the next festival. She remarks in a TV interview that a Persian carpet is a true cultural gift whose contribution can long outlive the physical lives of its designers and makers. But Kinue is then killed in a traffic accident, and her husband goes to Iran with their 11-year-old daughter, Sakura, to fetch the carpet, which, for him, will serve as a long-lasting tribute to his beloved.

When Makoto and Sakura arrive in Iran about one month prior to the Takayama festival, they learn from their Iranian agent, Akbar, that the three-month job of making the carpet hasn’t even been started. Iranian and Japanese conventions of politeness (two cultures for which courtesy is of extreme importance) are stretched to the limit when Makoto learns of this botched situation. While the adults avoid facing up to the situation, wring their hands privately in despair, and publicly engage in endless gestures of meaningless politesse, Akbar’s preteen relative and assistant, Ruzbeh, is not so encumbered with the overhead of such cultural habits. He proposes a round-the-clock carpet-making marathon involving all the available female carpet craftswomen, and his plan is to put into immediate action. The rest of the film details the almost manic efforts on the part of everyone to get the carpet done in time, despite various mess-ups and accidents that sometimes happen along the way.

Even though there are gentle, comedic touches that appear throughout the film, I would say that a sardonic cultural criticism lies at the heart of the film. Japanese and Iranian society would seem to be about as far apart as two cultures could be, and the contrasting postures of the two principal and stereotypical male characters only amplify such a separation. Makoto is formal, reserved, upright, face-preserving, and cordial in his taciturn way. On the other hand, the slouching and insinuating Akbar, clad in a leather jacket and sunglasses, is the ultimate ingratiating Iranian male – he is always trying to appear masterful, even when he doesn’t have a clue. Yet despite these differences in the stereotypical males, both Japanese and Iranian social cultures come in for some needling.
  • Asian societies are traditionally no-touch societies, even inside the home and between parents and children. When Akbar’s wife, Faribar, tries to greet Sakura with a kiss, the girl freezes in awkwardness. But little by little, Faribar breaks down Sakura’s reserve and generates genuine exchanges of affection by the film’s end.
  • The Iranian no-touch tradition is between men and women. When Makoto initially tries to shake Faribar’s hand, she shrinks back in embarrassment. In fact the relatively timid gesture inside their home of Makoto touching Kinue’s hand is somewhat surprising for me to see here, since male-female touching is usually censored in Iranian films. But when Ruzbeh and Sakura play the rock-paper-scissors game, Sakura touches Ruzbeh -- naturally and without affectation.
  • There are also occasional satiric portrayals of the somewhat enervating Iranian practice of relegating everything to fate’s hands. Even religion does not escape the irony. When a mullah is invited to be present at a wedding ceremony, he declines, saying that he doesn’t want to spoil the fun: mullahs perform much better at funerals than at weddings, he says.
It is worth remarking that Kaze no Jûtan shares a commonality with the work of Japanese filmmaking great, Kenji Mizoguchi. In Mizoguchi’s films, the men are relatively unreliable and useless, while the women face up to the serious consequences and accomplish everything. So it is here, too. While most of the men spend their time dancing, prancing, and boasting, the women (along with a few men) set to work on the monumental task of tying the thousands of individual knots required to make the carpet. It is essentially the women who organize it all, come up with countermeasures when necessary, and get it all done.

There are some narrative elements in the film that are only briefly touched on, and their inclusion makes me suspect that the screenplay (co-written by a Japanese and an Iranian) may be based on a larger work. For example there are several images of Akbar and Faribar wistfully looking at playing children, suggesting that they are regrettably unable to have children. There are other characters, such as Ruzbeh’s ill father, who are introduced, but whose personae are never developed to any degree.

The acting, as in many Iranian films, is quite good, particularly veteran Reza Kianian, who has appeared in several of Tabrizi’s films. Also praiseworthy are the pre-teenagers, Miyu Yagyu (as Sakura) and Farbod Ahmadjo (as Ruzbeh), who were making their screen debuts.

The cinematography and pacing are not altogether satisfying. Tabrizi likes to emphasize closeups, often with facing-into-the camera point-of-view angles, and he sometimes pans the camera around the room to dizzying effect. The use of 360-degree pans can sometimes be effective at certain moments, but the use of several of them here is unmotivated and merely jarring. There are also several other moving-camera shots that lack fluidity and seem pointless. In general the camera work is not effective. The occasional musical interludes, however, are quite lyrical and effective, and more of them would have been welcome.

To me, the genuine, heartfelt interactions between Ruzbeh and Sakura are held up as ideal, as natural. Not yet polluted by all the prejudices of their respective societies, Sakura and Ruzbeh are artless and engage each other in sincere, unaffected friendship. They can’t even speak each others' languages, but they communicate and see straight into each others’ hearts. And it is the soulful Ruzbeh who has the hope, the vision, and the plan to save the day. When he explains how it can all be done to Akbar and that they need to engage the assent of a crucial bazaari, Akbar says, hopelessly, “what if he says, ‘No’?”. Ruzbeh responds, “but what if he says, ‘Yes’?”. That is the spirit!

Michelangelo Antonioni

About Michelangelo Antonioni:
Films of Michelangelo Antonioni:
  • Cronaca di un Amore (Story of a Love Affair) - Michelangelo Antonioni (1950)
  • Le Amiche (The Girlfriends) - Michelangelo Antonioni (1955)
  • Il Grido (The Outcry) - Michelangelo Antonioni (1957)
  • L'Avventura (The Adventure) - Michelangelo Antonioni (1960)
  • La Notte (The Night) - Michelangelo Antonioni (1961)
  • L'Eclisse (Eclipse) - Michelangelo Antonioni (1962)
  • Red Desert (Il Deserto Rosso) - Michelangelo Antonioni (1964)
  • Blow-Up - Michelangelo Antonioni (1966) 
  • The Passenger - Michelangelo Antonioni (1975)

“Cronaca di un Amore” - Michelangelo Antonioni (1950)

Michelangelo Antonioni’s first feature film, Cronaca di un Amore (Story of a Love Affair, 1950), was an immediate demonstration of how distinct his style was from that of his Italian contemporaries. Antonioni’s first employment in the movies had been in the area of film criticism, but soon he found his way into the Italian film industry as a documentary filmmaker. This work led him naturally to work with members of the emerging Italian Neorealist cinema movement in the late 1940s, and one might have expected that that experience, along with his progressive political views, might have led him to continue in the Neorealist framework. But after some successful documentary films, his debut feature, Cronaca di un Amore, pointed in a different direction. One difference was the social focus: Antonioni’s Neorealist contemporaries had reacted against the Telefono Bianco (“white telephone”) style of conventional Italian cinema by concentrating on the everyday circumstances of the lower classes. And though Antonioni had worked with those artists with his documentaries, his focus here is on more cultured classes looking for something beyond the humdrum nature of ordinary existence.

The film begins as something of a mystery, with detectives hired to look into the past love life of a wealthy industrialist’s wife, and indeed the film retains all the earmarks of a film noir throughout much of the story. And yet Cronaca di un Amore wanders away from the typical film-noir dramatics and really does become the psychological story of a love affair. Along the way it touches on the shifting feelings of desire, guilt, and personal insecurity.

What immediately stands out when one watches the film is the moody mise-en-scène that was already well developed in this, Antonioni’s very first feature.
  • Already Antonioni emphasizes the stylistic feature of incorporating the physical environment and imposing background architectures into the mood of a scene. Notable in this film are scenes in which the encircling camera movements depict the agitated conversations on the circular staircase and on the highway bridge. He would enhance this emphasis in his subsequent films.
  • Antonioni employed long, carefully contrived camera-tracking shots throughout much of the film. By doing this he could steer clear of conventional shot/reverse-shot camera alterations employed to provide points of view, and instead he choreographed the character movements and the prowling camera to achieve the various points of view that he wanted by alternative means.
  • With the constant, restless character movements that take place in extended dialogue scenes, there is a perpetual awareness of the gestures and expressions of the characters, rather than the precise words -- and this facilitates the expression of feelings beyond the specific things that are being said. As a consequence, those scenes have a dynamism that forestalls any feelings of stasis and inertia. The style also occasions frequent situations in which the speakers are in non-face-to-face postures. In fact it will become a characteristic feature an Antonioni film to have characters talking to each other while facing away from their conversational partners. One should not go so far as to say, as some critics do, that this dialogue technique invariably connotes alienation. But it does suggest that the characters are at least pondering what they are about to say and are absorbed with issues that may go beyond what is immediately being discussed.
The story of the film concerns the love affair between a wealthy young married woman and her former lover. Throughout the film there is a noirish mood, with early intimations of a possible murder in the past, as well as homicidal intentions for the future. In addition, the solo saxophone musical score provides a disturbing, moody background to the tale. There are roughly four phases to the narrative:
  1. Character backgrounds. A detective, Carloni, is hired by extremely wealthy and jealous industrialist Enrico Fontana to investigate the past love life of his beautiful 27-year-old wife, Paola. Carloni goes snooping to Paola's old college and learns that one of her former best friends, Giovanna, died in a elevator fall seven years earlier, two days before that girl's intended wedding to a man, Guido, whom Paola also coveted. Guido finds out about Carloni’s suspicious inquiries and goes to Milan to warn Paola, whom he has not seen since the tragic accident. From this section, we learn that Guido and Paola are still attracted to each other after seven years and that their guilt feelings suggest that they may have had something to do with Giovanna’s death. In addition, it is clear that the vain and materialistic Paola has lost whatever passion she may have once had for her husband, Enrico. Though there is no single focalization in this phase, it is primarily concentrated on the investigator Carloni, with secondary focalizations on Paola, Guido, and Enrico.
  2. Love Affair Rekindled. The focalization now shifts to Paola and Guido, with Carloni almost disappearing into the background, and Enrico invisible. Paola and Guido begin meeting to discuss why Carloni is making inquiries about their past, and soon Paola is calling Guido, “Darling”. The contrast between the present social strata to which the two belong is marked: Paola is wreathed in fabulous gowns and sumptuous wealth, while Guido, often shown walking on dark, rainy streets, hasn’t had a regular job since the war and is now freelancing as a car seller. In a key ten-minute scene, Paola drives into town, shakes off the pursuing Carloni, who has been tailing her, and makes her way to a tryst with Guido in a nondescript hotel room. After making love, they discuss the circumstances of Giovanna’s death seven years earlier. In that conversation they confess to themselves that they could have prevented the tragic death, but refrained from doing so, because Giovanna's fall produced a result that they both desired. Now Paola suggests that they more self-consciously and actively do away with another obstacle to their goal of being together: Enrico. But Guido angrily rejects the criminal suggestion and leaves the room.
  3. The Murder Plot. Paola and Guido make up their differences, and Paola insists to Guido that their love would not endure without material wealth. Eventually she indirectly challenges Guido’s manliness and convinces him to murder Enrico, so that they can get his money. Meanwhile Carloni and his detective agency boss, not so much interested in justice as they are in Enrico’s high fees, decide that even though Carloni hasn’t found any evidence of the Guido-Paola affair, they should fabricate one anyway in their report to Enrico. Throughout this phase, the editing pace quickens.
  4. The Second Fatal Accident. The pace quickens further. Guido prepares to shoot Enrico from the side of an embankment on the road into town, while Carloni meanwhile gives his fabricated report to Enrico. The scenes now rapidly shift between three spheres: Guido on the road at night awaiting Enrico’s car, Enrico reading the damning report about his wife and then driving into town along the road bordering the canal embankment, and Paola waiting anxiously at home prior to a gala party. Just prior to the intended murder event, however, Enrico’s car swerves off the road into the canal and crashes. Paola, still in her lavish party dress, rushes off to Guido, and he glumly reports that Enrico has committed suicide. In tears, Paola swears her passionate love for Guido and makes him promise to call her the next day. But Guido takes a taxi to the train station, abandoning for good Paola and the love affair.
A strength of this film, underscored by Antonioni’s pensive mise-en-scène, is the visual depiction of the psychological breakdown of Paola and Guido. Another strong point is the role of Paola, herself, played by the luscious Lucia Bosé. Bosé was a former Miss Italy (1947) and apparently romantically involved with Antonioni at the time. The director’s camera certainly frames her beauty to the best possible effect. But there are some weaknesses. The role of Joy, a model who briefly flirts with Guido’s and inflames Paola’s jealousy, attracts some narrative focus midway through the film and then disappears. Carloni, the private detective, also fades away. Since the film opens with Carloni, one would expect that his role would enframe the tale and that he would appear at the close of the film. As a consequence, one is left at the end with a certain unsatisfying irresolution, a feeling that would not be uncommon in connection with Antonioni’s subsequent work. Overall, the film is worth seeing, although later Antonioni productions would definitely surpass this one.

Despite the physical action of Enrico’s death, this narrative primarily concentrates on the conflicted feelings of frustration and guilt on the part of the two principal characters. In addition the film stands as a condemnation of the pervasive acquisitiveness in post-War Italian society. All the characters have overweening desires for possession. For the four principal male characters, this desire is for material wealth, irrespective of whatever human values may be violated in the pursuit of such.
  • Enrico. His main pleasures are derived from taking over the businesses of his rivals.
  • Carloni and his detective boss. They simply want to increase their incomes, even at the expense of truth.
  • Valerio. A gangterish businessman who sometimes hires Guido to arrange car-purchase deals through the black market, he is more interested in making lucrative deals than satisfying his mistress, the model Joy.
  • Guido. Even Guido is more attracted to Paola for her luxurious glamour than out of true love.
For the women, the acquisitiveness is not for money, but for the men they want to possess.
  • Joy. She wants to possess her paramour, the married Valerio, and she despises him for occasionally attending to his wife.
  • Paola. She wants Guido, but the final result has to be on her terms, and it has to include Enrico’s fortune.
In addition, the selfish motivations and actions on the part of the four focalized characters all have unintended and ironic consequences that lead to just what was least desired:
  • Enrico’s jealousy leads him to investigate his wife, which ultimately brings Guido and Paola together and leads to her acts of infidelity.
  • Carloni’s fabricated report in the hopes of getting more business from Enrico directly leads to Enrico’s suicide and the end of Carloni’s meal ticket.
  • Guido’s desire for an enhanced self-image and a dream life leads him to the edge of murder and an incontrovertible lost of self respect.
  • Paola’s acquisitiveness for Guido leads her to lose him.
In the end it is Guido, on the verge of committing a murder, who finally recognizes the sordid nature of his relationship with Paola. He was legally innocent of both the death of Giovanna and the death of Enrico, but he knows that he shares some complicity in both deaths. He can no longer realize his romantic dreams if he has lost his own self-respect. He, alone, had a glimpse of the quagmire into which everyone was falling. And his decision was to take the first train out of town.