“Meshes” is an ongoing series that explores how films from different eras artistically overlap, contradict, and reference each other.
Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’Avventura envisions a sunken modernist world where romance and intimacy are forms of self-satisfying currency. A young socialite’s disappearance off the coast of Italy enables her boyfriend Sandro (Gabriele Ferzetti) and best friend Claudia (Monica Vitti) to begin an ill-advised love affair that seemingly has no definitive beginning or end. Antonioni frames their tortured glances and seductive wordplay within expansive exteriors (hillsides, rock faces) and cramped interiors (bedrooms, bathrooms), a disquieting proximal pattern that speaks to the film’s ghostly atmosphere. Absurdities surrounding class and religion eventually merge with the couple’s increasingly internalized void, until all that’s left is silence.
Maren Ade’s Everyone Else is the perfect post-modern mirror to Antonioni’s melodramatic tonal shifts. A newly minted German couple named Gitti (Bergit Minichmayr) and Chris (Lars Eidinger) lounge at an Italian seaside villa, sticking verbal daggers into each other as if it was part of the courting process. Their measured disintegration echoes the social unease of Antonioni’s pair, but Gitti and Chris see the outside world not so much as hollow but contradictory and frustrating. The successes, plans, and dreams of other characters amplify their growing doubt and passive aggression until, like L’Avventura, all that’s left is silence.
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Credits. Giovanni Fusco’s manic, furiously paced musical score plays over the opening credits, an anomalous creative decision in a film filled with stifling ambient sound.
Devoid of opening theme music, an early morning image of bare skin and faded pastels soberly marks a relationship’s comfortable, lethargic stasis.
Corridors. Antonioni’s cinematic maze extends to the outside world. The door may be open, but the foreboding composition of shadow and light is anything but inviting.
Ade employs a similar distancing long shot to introduce Gitti. Aside from her black tank top, she could easily disappear into the monochromatic color scheme.
Cliffs. Antonioni’s omniscient wide framing tips the scale toward menace. This extreme high-angle composition intensifies Claudia’s frivolous descent toward the crashing waves.
The environment is not as dramatically heightened as Antonioni’s mise-en-scene, but still is all-encompassing. Like Claudia, Gitti and Chris are on the precipice, constantly looking to the distance, uncertain of themselves.
Slinking bodies. Claudia’s posture is a study of grace to be found even in bourgeois indolence. The tilt of her head, the cross of her legs, the newspaper about to fall off the couch; her slouch is discontent incarnate.
In his mother’s trinket room, Chris performs a silly dance that masks his growing insecurities. Intentionally self-deprecating, his frivolous number may acknowledge his inner awkwardness, but still can’t overcome it.
Walls. As the artifice of la dolce vita crumble around Sandro and Claudia, Antonioni presses them against cracked, dilapidated walls. Stripped of an advertisement, the blank wall informs Claudia’s stare, similarly effaced of social pretenses in this alien setting.
Gitti faces her own wall of realization, withheld from the reach of both Chris and the viewer.
(Un) Happy Endings. The coda to Antonioni’s cinematic manifesto: a desperate touch, an expression of humility, and the sting of betrayal, all brought into relief in a cold, monumental distance.
A final game of chicken; like L’Avventura, Everyone Else crescendos with a confrontation conducted in silence, but this time from a devastatingly intimate proximity. Throughout the many intimately staged scenes between these two, this disaster of a relationship was always a close collaboration.
Glenn Heath Jr. is a film critic living in San Diego, CA. He writes for Slant Magazine, The House Next Door, Not Coming to a Theater Near You, SanDiego.com, and In Review Online.
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