Identification of a Woman (Identificazione di una Donna)

Ideas in previous Antonioni films reappear here as echoes of past achievements. Perhaps the problem is Tomás Milián, who just isn't as engaging as Marcello Mastroianni, Alain Delon, Monica Vitti, David Hemmings or Jack Nicholson as the jaded aesthete stranded amid the ethical ruins of contemporary bourgeois civilisation. The visual ingenuity still present in late films like The Passenger, with its outré final long take, is relaxed here. It's like Antonioni is on autopilot.

The scene on the foggy motorway is the one bit of the film with genuine portent – where you get the same sense as in Blow-Up of a person lost in the chaos of reality and without the tools to make any sense of it. There's inexplicable movement and rustling in the shadows, we hear about gunshots and bandits, but we're kept in the dark.

The main character is looking for a woman to star in his next film, and he loses the woman he's fixated on due to his inability to commit. People are reduced to surfaces in the director's viewfinder – screens behind which he can spout his philosophical musings. The ending is a departure for Antonioni in some respects, with spaceships and special effects (although they look like they belong in the 60s rather than the 80s), but it's in keeping with his broad concerns. Niccolò switches from making a film about understanding a woman to a film about understanding the sun. Both are treated as physical objects studied with an objective, scientific eye. And the young boy he is making the film for asks "and then?" – what happens after you discover the secrets of the universe? The question is left hanging – ultimately love and science are meaningless purposeless pursuits.

Does he make the film for his nephew, or because he is also going to have a son? (Weirdly the possibility of a daughter isn't considered). It's ambiguous whether he decides to be involved in the raising of another man's child, although there's the suggestion that he'd be scared off by Mavi's discovery of her real dad, who she thought was just a distant and cold family friend. His comment that "family is a distraction from private life" feels like a constant in Antonioni's work – made explicit by Jack Nicholson abandoning his almost on a whim in The Passenger. Antonioni might celebrate such liberations, although they do strike me as ultimately self-indulgent and fundamentally irresponsible. Identification of a Woman was made when the director turned 70, but its attitude is still one of teenage listlessness and quixotic striving for romantic and political commitment. I'm now old enough to think that these people should really just grow up. It looks like Antonioni never did.

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