Childhood & Early Life
Michelangelo Antonioni was born on September 29, 1912, in Ferrara, Emilia-Romagna, Italy, to Ismaele Antonioni and Elisabetta (née Roncagli).
As a child Antonioni developed interest in the arts that included music and painting. An exceptionally bright child he played the violin and performed in a concert for the first time at the age of nine. Later his interest in music was overpowered by cinema but his love for painting remained throughout his life.
He attended the ‘University of Bologna’ from 1931 to 1935 and completed his graduation in Economics. While in the university he became associated with student theatre. Thereafter he started working as a bank teller and also contributed as a film journalist writing stories and film reviews in the local Ferrara newspaper ‘Il Corriere Padano’.
He also became an amateur tennis champion for northern Italy while in his twenties.
He relocated to Rome sometime in 1940 and began working at the Fascist film magazine, ‘Cinema’. Its editor was the noted Italian film critic and producer, Vittorio Mussolini. Antonioni was however ousted from the magazine after a few months.
He joined ‘Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia’ to learn film techniques, but left it after a short stint of three months.
Later he was enlisted in the army.
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He co-authored the 1942 Italian war film ‘A Pilot Returns’ (‘Un pilota ritorna’) with Roberto Rossellini. It was directed by the latter. This work helped him sign a contract with ‘Scalera’, an Italian film production and distribution company. That year he also assisted director Enrico Fulchignoni for ‘I due Foscari’ and director Marcel Carné for ‘Les Visiteurs du soir’.
He made his first documentary ‘Gente del Po’ in 1943 that dealt with the inhabitants of the Po valley area followed by a string of short films of neo-realist style that portrayed the lives of commoners. Post liberation the stock of films were kept in the East-Italian Fascist "Republic of Salò" and could only be recovered in 1947, however not fully retrieved.
He made his debut as a full-length feature film director in 1950 with Italian drama ‘Cronaca di un amore’ (‘Story of a Love Affair’) starring Massimo Girotti and Lucia Bosè. In this film, which was not totally compliant with the contemporary style of Italian neorealism, he depicted the middle class. The film received positive response from critics and fetched Antonioni a ‘Nastro d'Argento’ award in the category of ‘Special Silver Ribbon’.
His next film ‘I vinti’ (‘The Vanquished’), a 1953 drama, although often not counted among the remarkable films of Antonioni and also faced censorship issues specially in the UK where it was never released, received a thumbs-up from the critics. It comprised of three stories with the Italian story set in Rome, the French story set in Paris and the English one in London delving about youths who commit murders.
The theme of his films would often hover around social alienation which is evident from his works like ‘La signora senza camelie’ (‘The Lady Without Camellias’, 1953), ‘Le amiche’ (‘The Girlfriends’, 1955) and ‘Il grido’ (‘The Outcry’, 1957). In ‘Le amiche’ (‘The Girlfriends’) he attempted a new style where he applied long takes and also featured a string of incidents that were seemingly not connected with one another, a technique he successfully used in many of his future endeavors.
In August 1959 he began shooting for ‘L'Avventura ‘ (‘The Adventure’), the first of the three films that are generally considered his trilogy due to similarity of style and the basic theme that conveys alienation of a man in contemporary world. The film released at the ‘Cannes Film Festival’ on May 15, 1960, and later in Italy on June 29, 1960, and received several nominations and won the Jury Prize at Cannes. It also earned laurels in art house cinemas across the globe marking Antonioni’s first international success. The film also made Monica Vitti an international star who won the ‘Golden Globe Award’ for Best Breakthrough Actress in 1961 for her performance in the film.
The central film of his trilogy was the drama ‘La Notte’ (‘The Night’) that was released in Italy on January 24, 1961. The film starred Marcello Mastroianni, Jeanne Moreau and Monica Vitti (in a cameo) and bagged several international awards including the Golden Bear at the 1961 Berlin International Film Festival; the ‘David di Donatello Award’ for Best Director in 1961; and the ‘Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists’ Silver Ribbon for Best Director in 1962.
The last one of this trilogy, ‘L'Eclisse’ (‘Eclipse’) released on April 12, 1962, and again starred Monica Vitti, who remained Antonioni’s love interest during that period. The film although could not garner critical acclaim won the Special Jury Prize at the 1962 ‘Cannes Film Festival’ and also received nomination for the ‘Palme d'Or’.
On September 4, 1964, his first colour film ‘Il deserto rosso’ (‘The Red Desert’) again starring Vitti in the lead was released at the ‘Venice Film Festival’ (‘VFF’). It had an opening in the US on February 8, 1965. Often regarded as the fourth film in continuation of his trilogy, this work won the ‘Golden Lion’ at the ‘VFF’ in 1964.
Other notable films of Antonioni were ‘Blowup’ (1966), ‘Zabriskie Point’ (1970), ‘The Passenger’ (1975), ‘Il mistero di Oberwald’ (1980) and ‘Beyond the Clouds’ (1995).
His documentary ‘Chung Kuo, Cina’ that was first featured in Beijing, China on November 25, 2004, was condemned vehemently as “anti-Chinese” by the Chinese authorities.
Short films of Antonioni that he continued to make simultaneously with feature films included ‘Bomarzo’ (1949), ‘Tentato suicido’ (‘When Love Fails’, 1953), ‘Il provino’ (1965), ‘Roma’ (‘Rome’, 1989), ‘Sicilia’ (1997) and ‘Lo sguardo di Michelangelo’ (‘The Gaze of Michelangelo’, 2004) among many others.
Personal Life & Legacy
From 1942 to 1954 he was married to Letizia Balboni.
He became partially paralyzed after suffering a stroke in 1985.
In 1986 he married Italian film director and actress Enrica Antonioni.
On July 30, 2007, he passed away in Rome at 94 years of age. He was buried in Ferrara on August 2, 2007.