Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Come Here, Mister

Life isn't about being drunk, it's about being merry.

At least, that was the distinction made in "Story of a Love Affair," the tenth and final film in the VCU Cinematheque retrospective of Michelangelo Antonioni. And as Professor T. pointed out ahead of the screening, ordinarily you'd have to go to a major city, say NYC or LA, to be treated to a retrospective of the master Italian filmmaker.

We have it so good in Richmond.

But before diving into Antonioni's first feature-length film, we strolled over to Ipanema, arriving so early that they were still serving the lunch menu. Not fussy about what meal we were eating, Mr. Wright and I scored the front-most booth - the one that used to get removed when bands played so they could occupy the space - and settled in until showtime.

Tuscan salads of greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, marinated artichoke hearts, cannellini beans and olives were topped with smoked salmon, despite my suspicion that salmon would not typically be part of a Tuscan meal. Given the chilly temperatures, we accompanied the meal with hot tea, mine a mint, his a South African Rooibus.

You know it's cold when I resort to drinking hot beverages since they're not my thing, though I must say it was a fine accompaniment for my slice of blueberry pie.

It was while eating dessert and discussing that tonight was the conclusion of the Antonioni series that I overheard the two guys in the next booth talking about another ending, that of the Italian Film and Food Festival. One guy recalled that it had always been at the Firehouse Theater. The other, a DJ I've known for years, thought he'd attended it at Artspace, but his friend wasn't convinced.

Without a moment's hesitation, I turned toward the other booth, called my friend's name and set out to clarify things. Yes, the Italian Film Fest had been at Artspace as well as the Firehouse, I shared. I know I saw Marco Bellochio's "Fists in the Pocket," there in 2010, along with killer eats from Mamma Zu, Edo's and 8 1/2.

"And Karen weighs in!" the DJ announced,  Just trying to help. I could have told him to look it up on the blog for further details, but refrained.

After crossing the street to the Grace Street Theatre only to find someone in my favorite seat, we made do with alternate seats nearby. Mr. Wright offered to go explain to the interlopers that they were trespassing, but I was feeling magnanimous.

Professor T. began the evening by explaining that we'd be seeing an archival Italian print on 35 mm, a rare treat which came with one small glitch. Archival prints don't get spliced to allow for standard two projector screening, so we should expect to see brief periods of black every 20 minutes. It seemed a small price to pay to see an archival Italian print on 35 mm.

And, as Mr. Wright later pointed out, the brief black breaks wound up feeling like scene changes during a play, perfectly appropriate given the high art we were seeing.

The visiting professor gave his usual 12-13 minute reading of his prepared paper on Anonioni and this particular film, his voice an odd combination of monotone, inappropriately inflected words and a question mark at the end of statements.

I'm not knocking the man's knowledge, just his delivery.

After seeing five of the ten Antonioni films this semester, films full of middle class malaise and post-war bleakness, I couldn't have been more surprised at the director's first foray into film. It was a black and white film noir, loosely based on the novel, "The Postman Always Rings Twice."

Hello dark streets, steamy love scenes and piano and sax score to set the mood. I love me a good film noir.

But then, as a bonus, there were scenes set in an uncrowded 1950 Milan, gorgeous clothing and gowns worn by the lead actress and a dead sexy car (see: 1948 Maserati A6G 1500, which surely must have been the inspiration for speedy cars in cartoons for decades to come).

What was strange was how very American the lead actor, Massimo Girotti, looked, a fact which worked fine in the context of the story but left me wanting for a more appropriately Italian actor, say, Marcello Mastroianni or Giancarlo Giannini.

What good are all those vowels in his name if he looks like John Garfield?

As for the distinction between stages of intoxication, it was when the older husband entered his younger, unhappy wife's bedroom late at night with a bottle of Champagne and two glasses that she asked of him, "Are you drunk?" and he responded, "Not drunk, just merry."

I've always labeled the stage before drunk as "loopy," but there's something charmingly dated about referring to it as "merry." As in, I've had a few glasses of bubbly and I'm feeling kind of merry right now. Not "deck them halls" merry, just merry.

Of course, that's just me weighing in. Again.

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