Zabriskie Point

Zabriskie Point

I wonder what else is going on in the real world.

I don’t think I’ve reviewed a film since Last Year in Marienbad that had such a polarizing response as Michelangelo Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point. After his successful English film Blowup, Antonioni was courted by Hollywood to make his first American film, and this is what he ended up giving them. I can only imagine the baffled expressions on the producers’ faces, after having seen Blowup, after a screening of this film; I wouldn’t say it’s almost directly opposite his previous film, but it does fly in the face of the art-house professionalism on display with his prior work.

The film doesn’t really have a plot, though it does have a narrative line; things happen, and they loosely lead to other things, but there doesn’t seem to be a goal to be reached or a conclusion to work toward. Rather, the film is squarely planted in the 60s counter-culture movement, a time of drug use, free-spiritedness, and railing against the system. The film begins in a haze of visuals and sound, to where you can’t really get a handle on the film at all until it finally chooses to coalesce into a more watchable form. From there, it is very scattershot, seemingly dropping plot points whenever it feels like, and spending the rest of the time messing around with its characters, seeing what sort of stuff they get into when left up to their own devices. What really struck me about the film, and definitely not in a good way, was how shoddy the workmanship was in making it. All the audio of the film, unless it was in a perfectly controllable environment, was extremely tinny, and frequently peaked and clipped out; I practically had to adjust the volume up and down depending on the type of scene. The acting wasn’t all that great, but then again, I wasn’t expecting it to be, which lessened the blow somewhat. The one thing that was, at the very least, pretty nicely done was the cinematography, or rather the visuals the film chooses to capture. After an extended sequence in a small city, the film spends the majority of the middle portion out in the dusty desert wilderness, including the eponymous location of the title, and thankfully Antonioni knows just how to capture these locales with the equipment he’s been given. The soundtrack and score were very nice as well, though I’m a fan of music from that era, so it might’ve just been me. Oh, and I couldn’t let this review go without mentioning the literally explosive ending, which while somewhat gratuitous and seemingly filmed with no actual purpose other than to blow stuff up, was still somehow in line with whatever I’d gotten from the rest of the film. Really weird, but in a good way.

For Antonioni to go from Blowup to this is frankly a little disconcerting, but not at all wholly unexpected. Dig underneath the framework and the admittedly rough technicals, and you’ll find the heart of this film is largely the same one beating underneath films like Blowup and The Red Desert. I’ve read reviews of this one on both sides of the aisle, and unsurprisingly, I found myself somewhere in the middle; while I can understand and appreciate the arguments made against the film, I just ended up liking it more than I ended up hating it, which, while not being by much, was enough for me. Who knows, maybe I’m just personally attuned to the style of filmmaking Antonioni employs; I’ve yet to see one of his films that I really did not like in some way, even though there’s really very little that would separate films of this director from some others that I’ve found I don’t really care for. I don’t know; it’s inexplicable – I shouldn’t like this film, but I found myself ultimately okay that I had spent two hours watching essentially nothing. Antonioni just has that way about him that makes watching a plotless film somewhat enjoyable for me. It’s not really a film; it’s a portrait of a culture, or in this case, subculture, and really, for those who know what kind of filmmaker Antonioni is to go into this one expecting anything other than what they ended up getting is to be a little bit misguided, even unintentionally.

Arbitrary Rating: 7/10

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