After seeing your films, one would never think that Antonioni had started in cinema as a documentarist. Was the experience of making documentaries helpful to you? Did it help to form your remarkable cinematic eye?
Let’s leave these adjectives out of our discussion. They don’t do any good. Making documentaries was very helpful to me because I did not know whether I was capable of making films. In making documentaries, I understood that I would be able to go on to make films that were as good as anyone else’s.
In reexamining your documentaries, one can see that already then you were telling stories.
This is true in a certain sense. Without even realizing it, in People of the Po Valley I focused more on the family that lived on the barge than on the landscape. I must confess that I was completely taken with those people. Unfortunately, I could not complete the documentary. More than one thousand meters of film were destroyed, and the way the documentary was edited, in its present form, does not emphasize enough that subtle narrative trend that emerged during the filming.
After a first experience that was in some way “neorealist ” – your documentaries and, later on, Attempted Suicide, your episode of Love in the City – you took riff in a different direction. Were you aware that you were entering into new territory?
No, I was not aware of it because during that time neorealism was not an issue. Before People of the Po Valley in 1943, Italian cinema did not portray the poor lower classes in such a harsh way (I am referring to the final part of the documentary which was lost). At that time, documentaries used to deal with places, works of art, the Charterhouse of Parma, the Abbey of Pomposa, the paintings by Canaletto, the valleys of Comacchio carefully cleared of any sign of hardship – anything but a sort of praise of [their staple industry,] the eel. These were the products of what was then the Istituto Luce. I instead went to the mouth of the Po river, placing at risk poor Minoccheri, who was my protector within the Istituto Luce and the only one who fought to let me do whatever I wanted. Let me say it again: these images were very harsh, representing the very difficult life of the fishermen, who lived at the mouth of the river in straw huts that would flood after every sea storm. That piece of land would become a mud slide. The fishermen would put their children on top of the tables inside of the huts to keep them from drowning, and they would attach bed sheets to the ceiling to absorb the water that came pouring down. Our cinema had carefully avoided representing those situations, as the fascist government prohibited them. I do not want to sound presumptuous, but I was the first person ever to portray them. No one really knows this, no one will admit it, but the fact that I invented my own brand of neorealism gives me a certain sense of satisfaction. Unfortunately, all of the film material was taken to the North of Italy by the fascists who had remained faithful to Mussolini [after the 1943 Armistice]. When the war ended, I went to get it back and I discovered it in a warehouse was, half-ruined by the humidity. Now the documentary only portrays the beginning of the storm, which is a shame because the rest was truly impressive. Continue reading