Bergman gazed at humanity and found an irreducible core; Antonioni discovered only a dissolution of self. To my mind, Antonioni's vision was truerby Mark Cousins / September 30, 2007 / Leave a comment
With the deaths, on the same day, of Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni, the golden age of European arts cinema became past tense. I’m currently making a documentary series on the history of world cinema; both directors were near the top of my interview wishlist. As I struck them off, I realised that almost no one remains to talk about the emergence of European art cinema in the 1950s and 1960s. The wall between it and us feels sealed now, which is sad.
This sadness was complicated by the acres of media coverage devoted to the directors’ deaths. Bergman and Antonioni were essential figures for intellectuals in the 1960s and 1970s, when most of today’s newspaper editors were educated. No doubt this is why their deaths made the front pages. On Newsnight Review, Toby Young did his now standard oik revisionism (Bergman was for bores). In Prospect in February 2003, I too tried to describe why my generation (born in the mid-1960s) took Bergman down a peg or two, but ended by saying that he was growing on me. So mostly I was pleased by the attention Antonioni and Bergman received. But mixed in with this was truculence at how little of a mark was made by the recent deaths of two other directors, Senegal’s Ousmane Sembène and Japan’s Shohei Imamura, figures of equal significance in world cinema. From the viewpoint of the European narcissist, their African and Asian worlds were largely irrelevant.
Although Bergman and Antonioni tripped off the same tongues in the 1950s and 1960s, and their self-evident seriousness and aesthetic confidence forced film finally to be accepted as art, they were profoundly different from each other. The best way to see this, I believe, is to think of how it feels to watch, on the one hand, The Seventh Seal, Wild Strawberries and Persona, and, on the other, Antonioni’s trilogy L’Eclisse, L’Avventura and La Notte. As I do so, I can imagine myself stepping into the worlds of the latter but not the former. I want to be the characters in Antonioni films, but it wouldn’t occur to me to be Bergman’s. The structures of Antonioni films feel open, those of Bergman closed.
Image, right: Alain Delon and Monica Vitti in L’Eclisse:
What do I mean by this? I’ve long argued that the three truly…