May 12, 2022

To be the Ricardos | the review of the film that made Nicole Kidman triumph at the Golden Globes

Monique Vitti, died today at the age of 90, was the Italian actress who more than others fueled the intellectual and cultural debate on the representation of women in cinema. Through her roles, but also through her activism, she has been the subject of various philosophical theses over the years, a reason for deepening academic texts, a source of inspiration for many artists outside the world of cinema.

It is no coincidence that Anne Carsonone of the most admired Canadian poets of the 20th century, often cited among the possible winners of the Nobel Prize in Literature, dedicated a series of poems to Monica Vitti originally published in the “London Review of Books” then merged with the collection Creation (2005). These verses contain all the effort that has gone through the career of the Roman actress: the work, for decades, to finally emancipate herself from the male gaze and impose a female presence in cinema capable of ignoring the men who desire it, hunt it, determine its existence. A perfect poetic synthesis of what has been a career entirely aimed at defusing the idea of ​​the woman on the big screen as an idealized model who only exists to calm the male imagination.

Indeed, Monica Vitti’s journey has been long and tiring as a “witness” employed by someone (usually a male director, with testicleprecisely “witness”, testicle, of virility) to mistress of his gaze.

A path that ironically only comes true with the last film of his career, that one secret scandal who wrote and directed in 1989. For her birthday, Margherita-Monica Vitti, lady of the good bourgeoisie, married to Paolo-Gino Pernice, painter, with a now independent son, receives as a gift from Tony-Elliot Gould, an American in full-fledged fantasy friend, a special camera, which looks like a little robot. At first, Margherita seems frightened by her unusual prying gaze that follows her everywhere. At first she is afraid of him, she locks him in a closet, she ignores him. Then she gradually becomes the accomplice in whom Margherita confides. A film without a reverse shot, in which the shot always and only represents the image perceived by the camera (exactly the opposite of the double camera-actor point of view of Antonioni’s cinema).

Only the eye of the camera follows the protagonists: when it is not on, there is no film. But this strange camera is turned on even without the woman’s consent. It turns out, in fact, that the gift of her “friend” is nothing more than a useful tool to spy on the protagonist’s live confessions, to record them in the belief that this autobiographical material collected in such a way fraudulent can then be used for a hypothetical film. Margherita, having revealed her trickery, realizing that she is the object of a gaze that is not hers, finds the strength to throw this camera from the balcony. And it is with this gesture that Monica Vitti tries to break down the limits imposed on women in a film industry dominated by men, inviting a future generation of directors to tell only the stories they believe are theirs.

Even in Antonioni’s cinematic tetralogy, the one for which she is most celebrated today, the camera gave Monica Vitti’s characters only the “false authority” of witnesses, starting with Claudia the adventure: who first observes events from the outside and then finds himself a motionless witness to the betrayal of which he is the victim. Even more explicitly, in the opening scene of the eclipse, Vittoria’s character plays with a frame like a director would with his own shot, arranging objects and images within its pre-determined boundaries: a rectangle capable of including within its borders only a small piece of the world at a time, ready to be emptied and filled constantly. And therefore also in the following two tetralogy films, it is the gaze of Monica Vitti (and that of Jeanne Moreau The night) on Milan and Ravenna to configure the camera’s exploration of these urban and suburban spaces as a narrative (although potentially, full of implications yet to be discovered) and not trivially as a digression.

The female gaze of the different character-witnesses always acts according to the will of the director, who uses his actress as a double for the camera, captures her in the apprehension of research, in the act of observing things in a strange way. and detached. . , puzzled, anxious, curious. Antonioni’s business is to show us things “twice”, by doubling the gaze of the camera. And the character-witness is one of the means he employs to make us look again, to make us aware of the different possible perspectives through a tool that is always remote-controlled and never autonomous. The actor then performs the same function as the remote-controlled camera of secret scandal. A look in the eye.

Since these first cinematographic experiences, Monica Vitti has always tried, first as an actress and then, at the end of her career, as a director, to change the way of being a woman in the cinema. It did so by disrupting the convictions of directors and spectators, always acting contrary to their expectations, without asking anyone’s permission and acquiring by itself the credibility now unanimously recognized.

Already in 1972, in issue 105 of Black and White magazine, devoted to the presence of women in Italian cinema, he complained about the lack of alternative roles for actresses to those that the male imagination had sewn to them: “It’s It’s amazing how few directors and screenwriters seriously ask themselves what a woman is thinking, what moves her. How many times have the writers said to me, “But my dear Monica, how can I write stories for you? You are a woman. And what does a woman do? She doesn’t go to war, she doesn’t have an interesting job. What can I write for you but a love story? Having a son with a man, he leaves, you suffer”. Monica Vitti has always fought so that different and interesting stories can be written for women, but above all she is committed so that women can write them for themselves.

Monica Vitti defied the gaze imposed on her by the author, drawing her own style, her own work, through the repetition of obsessions, gestures and movements. Starting with Antonioni, she takes the directors who direct her by the hand and with them she crosses “the most difficult dawn”, the one about which Anne Carson’s poem speaks. The attempt to capture everything that appeared in the line of sight of her gaze pained her and led her to wonder, “What should I do with my eyes? “. A question she tried to answer as long as she had the opportunity. Like Claudia the adventurefirst secondary character then protagonist, Monica Vitti never sought to fill a void (the one left by the disappearance of Lea Massari in the film) but to take charge of it, to take it within herself, affirming that where it there is nothing, everything else can exist.