The outcry is the one Michelangelo Antonioni's anguished characters can't bring themselves to uncork, the better to keep unvented torment pulsating under their skin and in the desolate spaces around them. From the caddy, bourgeois prattle of the Le Amiche ensemble to the working-class laconicism of Steve Cochran, though to Antonioni women have always had the edge over their male counterparts -- dreading the break-up after a seven-year affair with mechanic Cochran, newly-widowed Alida Valli finds her work cut out for her when he cuffs her in public. Thick physicality seems his only response to the malaise growing within, so he takes little daughter Mirna Girardi and skips town -- a change of air, perhaps, but mist hovers above the ground everywhere in their overcast Po Valley pilgrimage. The director's roaming format, then, people taking to the road while fighting dwarfing long-shots and an implacable horizon line: Cochran's first stop is at Betsy Blair's, imported over from Marty's Bronx for a speed boat race and a dance by the shore. A bicycle leans against the wall along with sepia family portraits, but Antonioni is here to discard with a "found" Neo-Realism for an examination of the image, the screen divided into multiple planes woven together by the camera even as emotions remain cut off. Cochran endures the padrone's anecdote about iguanas, then tosses the brochures to the wind; "willingness," he mutters to sensuously frazzled Dorian Gray when asked what he has the least of. Her roadside gas station, encroaching modernity when filtered through a high-angle, turns out to be the most spirited spot in his inhospitable journey, relaxed enough to include gags (an overflowing gas tank, grandfather-rascal) and an almost-connection with Gray, nested but no less trapped. The structure is circular, however, so i's back home for this brooder, all the way up to the refinery tower from where he came from -- fellow proles protest decimation for an airfield, but Cochran's numbness stretches from emotional to political (is there a difference?), death needed before a rebirth (in Antonioni's case, the rebirth is of the medium three years later in L'Avventura). With Lynn Shall, Gabriella Pallotta, and Pina Boldrini. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce