's 1982 film, The Identification of a Woman
is about an Italian film director's romantic relationship with two women
, both of whom he wishes to use as muses to inspire a study of a female form
in his next film. Women should be like nature, he tells a friend, describing his ideal
relationship with a woman filled with mutual silence and her innate physical responsiveness that mirrors the purely physical and silent response of nature
. Indeed, both of the women who Niccolo (Tomas Milan
) dates, become intertwined with nature
in his eyes, thus losing their independent personality and character.
The first one of them, Mavi (Daniela Silverio
), he meets through his sister, who works as a gynecologist
. The sister's secretary
has finished her workday so Niccolo's sister tells him to answer the phone
in her office. Niccolo subverts Mavi's attempt to schedule a appointment
by turning into a flirtation session
instead. He asks her to describe her physical appearance
, because as a film director
he has a need to picture the people he is talking to. Mavi is receptive to Niccolo's interest
(maybe the fact that he is a famous director also draws her in) and before we know it they are at his house, having a short conversation
followed by sex
It is important to contrast
the initial conversation of the two with their first lovemaking
session, only to highlight that Niccolo comes to know Mavi via her body's physical responses more than through her words.
The scene when they first meet face to face has a very brief conversation
; the rest of the scene is purely sexual. We see Niccolo sitting on her in a slanted
ing her breasts
. After that she pulls him downwards toward herself so that his body is stretched out horizontally directly above hers. She wraps her legs
around his. The camera focuses on the motion of their bodies for a few minutes in that position, until it cuts to the back of the woman sensuously and slowly pulling up her panties
Ironically, Niccolo is a film director and we know that his eye is attuned to the perfect camera angle
. His second lover, Ida, even acknowledges his filmmaker's gaze
by asking him whether he is trying to frame
her head in a shot
as he looks at her. Thus, it is not a stretch of the imagination to assume that the sensuous
scene that focuses on her body as she dresses herself indeed represents the consciousness
of Nicolo and his director's gaze that captures her form in its stark beauty
So if Niccolo is glorifying his lover's physical beauty (the part of her that is nature), how does he treat the part of her that has a personality, the aspect that is revealed by conversation? Before having sex, the two have an intellectual conversation that is absurd. Mavi asks him "Would there be a God
if there were no humans." He answers fatuously: "Even in the presence of humans his existence is doubtful." Mavi phrases the question ironically and her face has a sardonic indifferent expression as it usually does.
Apparently outside of her sexually alluring person, Mavi is a pretentious pseudo intellectual who poses questions that have no relevance. The very idea of God is a human concern, and by asking about God
in a context without humans, Mavi clearly reveals that God is an intellectual curiousity whom she considers outside of the context of human affairs.
Mavi confirms herself to be a pretentious pseudo-intellectual twit
in Niccolo's eyes after she introduces Niccolo to her friends at a high society soirée
, where she and her friends while away the time in a brightly lit European salon
with old-fashioned chairs, engaging in stilted conversations about contrabasses and commenting on the taste of strawberries.
We later learn that Mavi also conceives of her relationship
with Niccolo as purely sexual; a young girl who shares with Niccolo that she was Mavi's lover talks about how she prefers being masturbate
d by other women rather than having sex with men. According to her, men apparently only use sex as an occasion to express their virility
through sex and prove their own strength instead of trying to please their partner. While these words do not come out of the mouth of Mavi herself, they can be taken to express her thoughts. In a scene where she broke up with Niccolo, Mavi accused him of leading a purely sexual
relationship with her. She tells him that he didn't allow their thoughts and opinions interact with each other, by keeping his idea
s, friends, and thought
s away from her.
This break up scene was accentuated by an ominous
atmosphere: the two are speeding away from a pursuing
car in a fog
; the dreary grayness
of the fog
, the inability to see their surroundings, plus her partner's silence scared Mavi so much it drove her to scream
The atmosphere is not at all incident
al. The total darkness of the landscape, the whirling sensations created by speed, as well as the uncertainty of not knowing their location all represent the feelings
of both about their relationship.
They certainly represent Mavi's perspective: this man is a mystery
to her so she is in the dark about who she shares physical intimacy
with. The darkness
is compounded by a feeling of whirlwind speed
; the relationship
progresses, but it is frightening
because she doesn't what she might discover in the person that she is so intimate with.
This may be a simplistic interpretation
and one you as a viewer would not agree with when watching the film. The larger point is though that Antonini's landscapes certainly describe the emotions
of her characters. However attempting to make the metaphor
ical connection between the state of mind of the character
s and the camera's frequent focus on landscape
s may not create a definitive link, because the two disparate pieces will not fit each other so securely.
However, as a viewer, I am interested in making sense of the film. That's why I won't hesitate to speculate
about the meaning
of some peculiar plot
elements. For example, in the beginning of the film Niccolo gets a phone call from a guy who wants to meet him in a café
to discuss something important. This chubby faced mustached man tells Nicolo to stay away from Mavi
Nicolo suspects him to be Mavi's secret lover
, but she denies ever knowing him. Niccolo is nevertheless constantly bothered by his presence: the sinister man threatens his sister and frequently follows Nicoloin order to force him to give up dating Mavi. In fact, it is Niccolo's suspicion that he is being pursued by this man that leads him to drive with Mavi into a fog
and brings us to the scene where she breaks up with him.
The viewer never learns the identity of this pursuer; even in the scence where Niccolo accidentaly runs into him, he manages to run off without revealing his name
. I suspect that the spy's actual identity matters less than his metaphor
ical significance. The character becomes an occasion to express Niccolo's innate intution
that his relationship with Mavi is doomed to end. When Nicollo brings up his suspicion
of being chased by another car to a policeman
, the latter tells him that Niccolo's fear of being chased doesn't correspond to an actual threat.
In retelling this story, Niccolo
concedes that this fear is really something within him, a paranoia
of a pursuer that may not actually exist. In fact, this admission rings true if we consider an incident in the first scene of the film. That scene is permeated by an atmosphere of panic
, with the annoying sound of the phone ringing and a fire alarm setting off a thought in Niccolo
's head that that causes him to feel very disturbed and alarmed about having recently broken up with his wife. Later, a hotel worker tells Niccolo that the fire alarm
was supposed to have gone off because of robbers, but in fact he is not sure that there were any robbers in the hotel. Again, the panic experienced by Niccolo in this scene doesn't serve to bring up any real event; it seems only to illuminate his own feelings of panic with regard to a woman.
Of course, it is only logical to conclude that Niccolo's feeling of panic
with regard to a pursuer in the presence of Mavi is actually really brought about by Niccolo's innate and sad knowledge that his relationship
with Mavi is doomed
to end. This inevitable end is fated from the beginning because Niccolo's goal of making sure that Mavi is a woman of pure form, inspiration
, and nature will most likely not be fulfilled. Mavi, like other women, will cease to be a mysterious force of nature
and will want to be a companion
with a personality
. Thus, she is destined to become exactly the kind of real woman that Niccolo doesn't want and cease being the mysterious muse
that he felli n love with.
Incidentally, Niccolo runs into the same issue with his next girlfriend
.) His best time spent with her is when he takes her out to sea
on a boat
. Niccolo tells Ida that he can best love her in the solitude inspired
by a state of being surrounded by him, her, and waves
with everything else excluded. In fact, during her first date with her, when they are walking through the streets near a theater
, he tells Ida that he doesn't want to watch a play but would rather just eat and talk.
The end of their relationship comes after Ida finds out that she is pregnant; Niccolo apparently doesn't think the mother can be muse, a mysterious presence, an erotic gravitation
force. That thought bores to the thematic depth of the film: can the mystical and magical erotic attraction
of two beings, two bodies transform into a relationship of two ordinary everyday people without itself becoming banal and ordinary and causing the two partners to lose their fascination
for each other?
In a rather funny scene of the film, Mavi walks by a department store window where a living girl is standing next to a display model
of an almost naked, bikini-clad male and caressing him. Mavi tells Niccolo that a friend of her stopped by there and was so impressed by this model that she had to take a picture with him.
This little scene offers a bit of ironic commentary
certainly starts with the body, and the presence of the body
, female or male, is what creates the romantic
link between two people. The model in the store window
is like the alluring silent
partner that Niccolo wants to find for his inspiration
Note: This film was nominated for two awards at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival: the 35th Anniversary Prize and the Golden Palm. It was the first award but not the second.
Further Reading: Please consult liontamer
's The Alienation Trilogy
node for an excellent overview of Michelangelo Antonioni