Color, 1982, 130 mins. 30 secs.
Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni
Starring Tomas Milian, Daniela Silverio, Christine Boisson, Lara Wendel, Veronica Lazar
Cult Films (Blu-ray) (UK RB HD) / WS (1.75:1) (16:9), Criterion (Blu-ray & DVD) (US RA/R1 HD/NTSC), Mr. Bongo (DVD) (UK R0 PAL) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
Once ranked about the very greatest Italian filmmakers thanks to his masterful studies in European modern disconnection like L'avventura, The Red Desert, and Blow-up, Michelangelo Antonioni became less prolific and marketable in the 1970s following the disastrous reception to his Hollywood counterculture spectacle, Zabriskie Point. The quality of his work didn't suffer since he chased it down in 1975 with The Passenger, but his shot-on-video experiment The Mystery of Oberwald didn't help matters. His penultimate feature, Identification of a Woman, invited open comparisons with the director's own life as it focused on a filmmaker struggling at a crossroads in his life. Almost completely ignored upon its release outside Italy despite winning a prize at Cannes, the film has since risen in stature among his works with its frank sexuality and concerns about aging paving the way for his belated final film, Beyond the Clouds.
Feeling adrift without a project in the works, director Niccolò (Italian crime movie legend Milian) ends up meeting and starting an affair with Mavi (Silverio), a well-to-do client of his physician sister. Receiving anonymous warnings to stay away from his new girlfriend, Niccolò retreats from sharing anything too personal -- which she reciprocates as well, to their peril when they decide to head out to the countryside for a getaway. To say more would spoil things, but it's another Antonioni quest without a firm resolution but some tantalizing clues along the way that point to answers ranging from simple existentialism to the downright unsettling.
Virtually Milian's show throughout with Silverio and actress Christine Boisson juggling two halves of the film, Identification of a Woman almost feels like Antonioni's riff on Vertigo at times and features one of his most striking sequences, a fogbound argument that lurches the film in another direction at the halfway point. Though Antonioni had certainly presented some daring material before in terms of nudity and sexuality in a couple of his earlier films, he goes much further here with a handful of encounters between the two leads that didn't really end up provoking much of anyone. As usual it looks gorgeous and features an interesting supporting cast for Eurocult fans including Lara Wendel (the same year she appeared in Tenebrae) and Veronica Lazar fresh off of Inferno. Extra points for the eye-popping galactic ending, which probably couldn't be predicted by any viewer in the audience.
Despite its pedigree, this film didn't get a really respectable home video release until Criterion gave it a Blu-ray and DVD presentation in 2011 featuring a solid scan framed at 1.85:1 and only the theatrical trailer as an extra unless you count the booklet featuring an essay by critic John Powers and a 1982 interview with Antonioni by critic Gideon Bachmann. A no-frills UK DVD from Mr. Bongo preceded it in 2008 as well. In 2022, U.K. label Cult Films finally gave it more love with a full-fledged special edition Blu-ray centered around a fresh 2K restoration of the film, now framed at 1.75:1. While the Criterion has a tendency to look more peach-colored (especially flesh tones) and has some evidence of edge enhancement, this one is more neutral and even cool at times with some slight framing variations (see below). The LPCM 2.0 24-bit Italian mono track sounds excellent and features optional English subtitles. The new "Identification of a Director" (30m33s) features the director's widow, Enrica Antonioni, discussing the heavily autobiographical nature of the film, the crisis he was going through when they met when she was 18, the challenges of casting the two major roles, and fun little stories about some of the props and locations. In the video diary "With Michelangelo" (60m26s), we get to be a fly on the wall and watch the director busy going to film screenings, creating artwork with Enrica, driving around, and dining with friends. Finally you get a new video intro by Pasquale Iannone, "Antonioni's Final Masterpiece" (10m37s), contextualizing this as a sort of return home after his globe-trotting films studying isolation and identity as well as a summing up of his life's adventures.
Reviewed on September 10, 2022