Wednesday, February 8, 2012


‘After living seven years with the mechanic Aldo, having a daughter with him, the simple woman Irma is informed that her absent husband had just died in Sydney. She becomes upset when Aldo proposes to marry her and she tells him that she is going to leave him. Unable to explain how much he loves her, Aldo takes their daughter Rosina and travels with her, meeting different women in different places, trying to establish a new relationship and fill the emptiness of his sentimental life. He visits his former lover Elvia; he meets and lives with the widow Virginia, who owns a gas station; he lives with the prostitute Andreina. But these relationships never complete the needy Aldo.’
This is the plot of an Italian neo-realistic drama ‘Il Grido’ directed by Michelangelo Antonio in 1957. The movie is a dark and realistic tale of a modern man and a modern woman, who are not modern in conventional sense but are modern since they live in and belong to the modern world. The movie is a sad portrayal of gradual and tragic disruption of man woman relationship in the contemporary society. Man is unable to relate and understand the woman and a woman is unable to complete and satisfy the man. This shatters the so-called bonding between the two and leaves them disgruntled and dissatisfied for their whole lives. French master Jean-luc Godard says in his movie ‘Breathless’ directed in 1960 that the modern life increasingly separates men and women. Antonio demonstrates the same three years earlier than Godard in ‘Il Grido’.
‘Il Grido’ an Italian phrase, which actually means an outcry in English begins with a woman named ‘Irma’ who finds herself wedged in a situation when she is informed that her husband has died in war. Hearing this, Aldo who has plans to marry her since last seven years proposes her for marriage. Irma shatters all his hopes by informing him that she is leaving him for another man. Aldo tries his best to convince her about his feelings but she doesn’t revert back from her decision. Irma is a simple middle class woman of modern world, married to a war soldier for whom she is waiting for the last seven years. In the meanwhile she begins an affair with a man much younger than her to satisfy her physical and emotional needs and she also has a daughter born out of this promiscuous relationship. The time has indeed inflicted grievous wounds on her psychological state. It has kept her physically, sexually and socially deprived for the past so many years.  When Aldo finally proposes her for marriage, she immediately rejects him by saying that she is involved with some another man. Probably she doesn’t want to indulge in another tragic wedlock. And probably she doesn’t want to love again. Irma possesses all the dispositions to be a remarkable wife, a wonderful mother and a dependable partner. But instead she has become an incompetent lover and an impossible wife. Irma is the finest portrayal of a modern woman caught in the moral and ethical code of a monogamous relationship who is unable to function either as a wife or as a lover. Irma is an example of a modern woman who can bore nothing but only pain and solitude out of her emptiness.      

After he fails to convince her for marriage, Aldo takes their daughter and travels with her aimlessly. He visits his former lover Elvia and even lives with her for some days. It seems that the things would fall in place but when Irma visits Elvia to return a suitcase for Aldo, Elvia confronts a truth about Aldo’s sudden visit after so many years. When she comes to know that Aldo has returned after being disappointed by Irma, she feels deceived and tells him to go away. Elvia is a beautiful young woman deeply in love with her former lover. She has moved ahead with time but has still not discarded her feelings for him. She is still single after so many years of her break-up with Aldo. She is still waiting for him and is very pleased to see him again. She wants him back but she wants him alone.  Elvia is another fine example of a modern female damaged by the tradition of monogamous relationship. She is a beautiful lover indeed but can only love when the monogamous code is satisfied. She can be a remarkable wife too. But her unsuccessful relationship with a former lover has made her an incapable woman. She cannot love again. And even if she marries somebody she would be unable to gratify her partner. She has imposed lifelong pain and anguish upon herself. She would remain alone and sexually frustrated for her entire life.

Aldo leaves Elvia and meets a widow Virginia who owns a gas station. He is physically drawn to her and gets involved in a purely sexual relationship with Virginia. It results in several wild sexual encounters between the two of them. But when Aldo’s daughter becomes affected with this relationship, things start taking a difficult turn. Virginia finds her an unnecessary intervention in their relationship. As a result, Aldo sends his daughter away to her mother for few days. Disappointed by Virginia’s attitude towards his daughter, Aldo leaves her and goes away. Virginia is an attractive, middle-aged, loud-mouthed, sexually starving independent female. Solitude has taught her a lot but has also made her inept in certain aspects. She is an excellent prostitute but an extremely poor wife and an equally poor lover. Virginia is another example of a modern female who knows the art of love making and seduction but is incapable of sustaining it for long. She is an ethical slut, capable of travelling the journey from attraction to orgasm but is incapable of taking the orgasm from a purely physical echelon to a higher spiritual echelon. Indisputably she has comprehended the worthlessness of the institution of marriage but in the process she has also abandoned all other possibilities which can erupt from a man-woman relationship. Probably she has suffered a lot from her previous loss which has caused an irreparable damage to her persona. She cannot be a wife to a man. She can only be a filthy prostitute. And this would keep her discontented and despicable forever.
Aldo leaves Virginia too and meets a prostitute Andreina in an informal gathering with some friends. Andreina becomes sick with high fever. Aldo offers her care and affection in her illness. But she feels absurd and rejects his offerings. They meet again and Aldo narrates her some incident from his former relationship with Irma. Andreina is unable to understand his logic and gets irritated in return. They start living together but when Aldo is unable to fulfill her basic needs of food and shelter, she goes back and leaves him forever. Andreina is a young, charming and seductive prostitute. She possesses the skill to fascinate and allure any man she desires. But she is incapable of loving anybody and is also incapable of accepting the love if offered too. She just needs a physical partner who could fulfill her basic requirements of life. She doesn’t need a lover and she doesn’t want a husband too. Probably her profession has exhausted all the virtues out of her and made her a completely superficial person. She has reduced herself to an entirely physical being. She doesn’t believe in the worth and significance of anything beyond the basic. Probably she doesn’t understand or she doesn’t want to understand it only. She would remain happy if her requirements are fulfilled otherwise she has only hatred and disgust to offer anybody. This brief encounter also brings out the failure of Aldo as a man to satisfy the social and economic needs of a woman.
Il Grido portrays four different women in the life of a modern man; Irma, an excellent woman who has abandoned all the hopes from a man woman relationship; Elvia, an excellent lover who can only love if terms and conditions of monogamy are fulfilled; Virginia, an irresponsible woman who can only function if she dominates in a relationship with another man; Andreina, a lusty prostitute who has nothing more to offer anybody besides her body. Il Grido reminds me of ‘Bhumika’, an Indian movie directed by the legendary ‘Shyam Benegal’ about a Marathi actress trapped in a similar situation, with the main lead played by a female legend Smita Patil. ‘Bhumika’ presented an Indian woman discovering her place and sexuality in a male dominated society, meeting different men in different situations and places, ultimately opting to stay alone for her entire life. The modern times have made them incomplete and incapable in some form or the other. Aldo remains dissatisfied till the end. But Aldo is not alone in his unique quest of life.
Il Grido is an outcry of a modern man who wanders aimlessly searching for his soul mate. Il Grido is also an outcry of a modern woman who feels incapable of providing an end to his quest. The modern times have greatly separated man and woman. The modern times have translated the man-woman relationship into a moral code of monogamy. Both of them need to realize the need and re-codify the entire structure in collaboration. Man needs to understand a woman and woman needs to re-discover her beauty to relate to a man. Only then we could hope to bring an end to this outcry.

La Notte

After directing a tragic movie ‘Il Grido’ in 1957 based on sad demise of man woman relationship in the contemporary society, legendary Italian director ‘Michelangelo Antonio’ went onto comment further on similar scenario in his another remarkable movie ‘La Notte’ directed in 1961 with main leads played by Marcello Mastroianni (remember Fellini’s ‘8 ½’, ‘La Dolce Vita’), Jeanne Moreau, Monica Vitti and Bernhard Wicki. The movie raises numerous questions on the limits and do’s and don’ts in a man woman relationship while dealing with the concept delicately opening everything layer by layer.

‘La Notte’ begins with Giovanni Pontano who is a famous writer in Milan and his wife Lydia visiting their terminally ill old friend Tommaso Garani in a hospital. The short visit gives an indication about the obvious age old inclination of Tommaso Garani for Giovanni’s wife Lydia. In the hospital the couple also encounters a strange but very beautiful and young, female patient admitted next to Tommaso’s room. The young female drags Giovanni into her room and indulges him in a violent sexual intercourse just when the nurses enter and beat her up. Dazzled by the girl’s strange reaction, Giovanni narrates the entire incident to Lydia including how he felt helpless reacting in that situation. Thereafter, Giovanni goes to a party for the release of his latest book and his wife visits the place where she lived many years ago. Lydia calls Giovanni from the place and tells him to pick her up. The incident depicts the mutual understanding and beauty of their relationship even after so many years of their being together. In the night, they go to a night-club, and later to a party in the mansion of the tycoon Mr. Gherardini. Along the night, Giovanni flirts with Valentina Gherardini, the daughter of the host, and then he receives a proposal to work for him in the area of communication and write the history of his company. Lydia observes her husband getting fascinated towards the lonely gal in the party and also kissing her subsequently. This disturbs Lydia and she goes onto flirting with a playboy Roberto who seems interested in her from the beginning. Roberto begins advancing towards her but she resists him eventually. In the meanwhile, Valentina recites her poetry to Giovanni and also confesses about her loneliness. Both of them are further drawn to each other as intellectual companions. Lydia returns to the party and indulges in a heart to heart conversation with Valentina when Giovanni arrives and both of them decide to return home.

Giovanni unable to conceal his feelings for Valentina even in front of Lydia, bids her goodbye. After what happened at the party, Giovanni tells Lydia about the offer he received from Valentina’s father. Lydia also discloses Giovanni about Tommaso’s intentions for her since the very beginning and how he used to make her feel precious. She also admits about her die hard feelings for Giovanni since the day she knew him also including how they have changed since what happened at the party. Giovanni apologizes her and begins kissing and making love to her in atonement. The movie ends with both of them making love on the ground as if nothing else is left between them.

The movie attempts to explore several questions about man woman relationship. Is it immoral to love somebody? And is it immoral to love somebody knowing that you are married or belong to somebody else? If it is immoral to love so is it moral to resist love when it comes to you itself? Is it feasible to justify love and attraction? Is it possible to love two people at one time? Is it possible to be attracted towards somebody knowing that your attraction is going to create ripples in your own personal life? Are we there to form new relationships or are we there to confine them? What happens when bonding occurs naturally? How far do man and woman have the right to indulge in each other’s life? How far are they responsible for each other? Who should decide the limits? And what should be done if the limits are crossed? What should be the punishment? And who should decide it? The director leaves it to the viewer to interpret the movie and answer these questions.

The greatest harm done to human civilization has been structuring love and building an empire of other worthless structures around it. Love should not be structured and if structured it doesn’t remain love. It begins to rot and emanate odors when you try and confine it accordingly. Love is not an entity. It is a beautiful immense canvass on which one can paint anything and anybody he likes. Love can never be immoral. It is always beautiful no matter who loves and whom he loves. You cannot time it. And you cannot decide it too. One cannot force it though one may try to demolish it. Love is always just since it originates from somewhere which is beyond the approach of human understanding. So one cannot justify it, though one may try to mar it using certain words.
Another greatest harm done has been deciding man woman relationship on the basis of morality and limiting it by the institution of marriage. The modern civilizations have reduced the naturally polygamous (or –androus) humans into a monogamous institution further locking it with a code of morality. If somebody tries break the code he is labeled as immoral. Things have been simplified to the limit. Man has been made the puppet of moral schools of the society. Boundaries have been pre-determined. And human bondings have already been pre-decided and pre-labelled using very few words. Any possibility of emergence of a new form of relationship has been theoretically and practically eliminated by the decision makers.
The movie depicts how a relationship having deeper intellectual and spiritual overtones undergoes a radical diminution to a purely physical level when the monogamous code is unknowingly deceived by the people involved. The movie demonstrates how easier it has become to pull apart the threads of human relationships. This is the consequence of simplifying the intricate matters based upon very subtle and elusive human understanding and mutual attraction merely to the level of concrete and suitable justification. This is the result of civilizing everything along the way without foreseeing the violent consequences ahead.
La Notte is a landmark creation in the history of Italian as well as world cinema and is neo-realism at its best. The culmination of the movie in a physical intercourse between the two protagonists reminds me of similar ending in a Bengali movie ‘Charulata’ based upon the marital complacency in the life of a lonely housewife, another masterpiece of world cinema directed by Satyajit Ray, both suggesting that the things cannot be mended from now on. ‘La Notte’ along with ‘Il Grido’ and ‘Il Deserto Rosso’, all directed by Michelangelo Antonio, would remain notable in the history of cinema to comment upon very significant theme of man woman relationship in the contemporary society.