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Being John Malkovich Again: John Malkovich plays a brooding film director trysting with Sophie Marceau in 'Beyond the Clouds.'

Cloudy Confession

Michelangelo Antonioni tries one last time to grasp the ungraspable

By Richard von Busack

PERHAPS ON THE grounds that John Malkovich is at last a star, we're getting the local release of Michelangelo Antonioni's final movie, Beyond the Clouds. The film, made in 1995, comprises a quintet of stories held together by the figure of Malkovich as a brooding film director contemplating his next movie. At different locations throughout Europe, he encounters or remembers tales of failed love. The first episode, "Chronicle of a Love Affair That Never Existed," tells a story of idealized romance set in swampy Ferrara, Italy, Antonioni's birthplace. A drainage-pump technician, Silvano (Kim Rossi Stuart), encounters Carmen (Ines Sastre), an alluring schoolteacher. Her beauty and sweetness make her a perfect love object, but the fraction of space between her real qualities as a woman and Silvano's vision of perfection is just large enough to let love escape.

"The Girl, the Crime," which takes place in the splendid harbor town of Portofino, is the only tale in which Malkovich's director intrudes, in a story of a tryst with a patricidal murderess (Sophie Marceau). It's likely the most sexually explicit story Antonioni ever directed, but the director's technique here is too remote for real eroticism, too sparse for anything else.

In Paris, a cheating husband (Peter Weller) is pulled between his French wife (Fanny Ardant) and his Italian mistress (Chiara Caselli). The episode, titled "Don't Look for Me," is full of typical Antonioni: sterile modern buildings, slowly panning camera, simmering anomie, extramarital affairs that announce themselves as cul-de-sacs before they even truly begin. Ardant, terrific as usual, pumps some hot, angry blood into the story.

The fourth tale is an interlude starring two aging greats (Marcello Mastroianni and Jeanne Moreau) of the European cinema observing the difference between Cézanne's view of Mont Sainte-Victoire and the much-less-pleasing prospect of the famous mountain today. Lastly, "This Body of Dirt" features a debate, held in the rainy streets of Aix-en-Provence, between a suitor (Vincent Perez) and his own object of desire, a religious young lady (Irene Jacob). At the end of the film, Malkovich draws the stories together indirectly by speaking of the filmmaker's dilemma: "We know that beneath every recorded image lies another, more faithful to reality, and beneath that lies another ... up to the mysterious reality which no one will ever see."

Beyond the Clouds could be described as stories of the endeavor to capture reality, efforts that somehow miss the mysterious essence of the thing that the heart would keep. At the end of his life, then, Antonioni--all but mute from a stroke, yet directing with notes, gestures and the help of his wife--confessed to the elusiveness of what he tried to capture on film during his career. Perhaps this confession makes up for the lesser quality of this rambling film; it's worth watching not for its profundities, but for its cast and its ravishing locations.

Beyond the Clouds (unrated; 105 min.), directed by Michelangelo Antonioni, written by Antonioni, Tonino Guerra and Wim Wenders, photographed by Alfio Cotini and starring John Malkovich, Sophie Marceau, Fanny Ardant, Peter Weller and Vincent Perez, opens Friday at Camera 3 in San Jose.

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From the January 20-26, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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