Michelangelo Antonioni was born on 29 September 1912 in Ferrara, an old city in the Po Valley, of well-to-do parents. In 1935, he graduated from the University of Bologna with a degree in Economics, and in the early 1940’s moved to Rome. There he met his first wife, Letizia Balboni, whom he married in 1942. After separating from her, he had several relationships with other women, including one with Monica Vitti, the actress who shared with him the international success of his 1960s films. He married Enrica Fico, in 1986.
Antonioni’s interest in cinema found its early expression in the film reviews he wrote first for the local Ferrara paper, II Corriere Padano, and later, during his early stay in Rome, for the important magazine Cinema. He enrolled for some time at the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia and collaborated on the script of Roberto Rossellini’s Un pilota ritorna (A Pilot Returns). In 1942, the production company Scalera hired him as scriptwriter and assistant director for Enrico Fulchignoni’s I due Foscari (The Two Foscaris). Scalera then sent him to France as co director of the Italo-French coproduction of Marcel Carne’s film Les Visiteurs du soir (1942). In spite of Antonioni’s admiration for him, Carne was rather unimpressed by the young Italian.
Returning to Italy, Antonioni started shooting his own first work, the documentary People of the Po Valley. The documentary, which was completed only after the war, in 1947, focused on an enviroment the director knew well and on people whose problems and hardships he strongly sympathised with. In 1950 he directed his first feature film, Story of a Love Affair, which addresses topics that will be a constant presence in his early works the “crisis of emotions and of moral values” within the context of Italian bourgeois society. With L’avventura (1960)–and the other two films that immediately follow it, La notte (196I) and The Eclipse (1962), Antonioni established himself as one of the most talented, innovative, and technically accomplished Italian filmmakers.
But his quest for the new did not stop. With Red Desert (1964), he experimented with the use of color as a key element in the portraying of characters and landscapes. From the mid-1960s on, Antonioni undertook even more ambitious projects involving the exploration of different cultures and societies. After the London success of Blow-Up (1966), he obtained an MGM contract for shooting Zabriskie Point (1970) in the United States. In 1972 he completed Chung Kuo: China, a documentary on Chinese society commissioned by the Italian state television, and in 1974 The Passenger; an international coproduction shot in North Africa and Spain.
Antonioni’s interest in technical innovations brought him to experiment with a video camera for The Mystery of Oberwald, (1980), a film based on a play by Jean Cocteau. With Identification of a Woman (1982), Antonioni returned to Italian characters and situations. In 1995, after years of silence due to illness, he co directed with Wim Wenders his “comeback” film, Ai di fa delle nuvole (Beyond the Clouds). In the same year, Antonioni was awarded an honorary Oscar for his lifetime commitment to the cinema. Antonioni’s final film, made when he was in his 90s, was a segment of the anthology film Eros (2004), entitled “Il filo pericoloso delle cose” (“The Dangerous Thread of Things”).
Antonioni died aged 94 on July 30, 2007 in Rome, just a few hours after the death of another renowned film director, Ingmar Bergman. He was buried in his home town of Ferrara on August 2, 2007.