In a recent interview, Lars Von Trier told a story about a friend warning him not to be one of those directors who, as he gets older and older, requires the women in his films to get younger and younger and nuder and nuder. Perhaps von Trier’s friend was thinking of Michelangelo Antonioni and his 1982 film Identification of a Woman when he said that.
In 1982, Antonioni was 70 years old. The women in Identification are barely twenty and rarely clothed. The film tells the story, as much as there is one, of a divorced filmmaker named Niccolò (Antonioni’s avatar, to be sure) who first falls in love with a young aristocratic woman who doesn’t love him in return; then he takes up with another, an actress who is mad for him but in whom he is essentially disinterested.
This is all kind of ridiculous but the saving grace is the cinematography, often the best part of Antonioni’s work. The brilliant Carlo Di Palma, a first ballot hall of famer on the strength of Red Desert alone, shines reliably. The beautiful Blu-ray transfer enlivens everything from his simple, striking compositions of interiors to his expansive depictions of nature. The highlight of the film is a sequence of driving and then walking in heavy fog. The plot elements that set up this section are a little preposterous but, once we and Niccolò are lost in the haze, the mechanics of the photography and the editing take over, enveloping us in an eerie yet oddly calming hold.
Occasional moments like that are what make the film worth watching. Unfortunately the story still has to hang on our lead character. Tomas Milian has been good in other films but Antonioni and his script seem adamant about keeping Niccolò from being interesting. Perhaps because he is clearly meant to represent the filmmaker, Antonioni found him inherently appealing while forgetting that we don’t necessarily share his self-interest. Much better are the film’s two female leads, Daniela Silverio as the wealthy Mavi and especially Christine Boisson as actress Ida. Boisson actually makes the viewer believe she likes Niccolò.
So, yes, Identification of a Woman comes off, in many ways, as an artsy excuse for a creepy old man to be a creepy old man. But it looks gorgeous and, after all, given Antonioni’s body of work, perhaps he’s earned it.
Only the trailer is included as a special feature but the booklet features an essay by John Powers that argues well in favor of the film.