Blow Up (1966)
Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * * ½

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Thomas (David Hemmings), a young fashion photographer living in London, takes a series of photographs of a woman, Jane (Vanessa Redgrave), he sees in a public park while she is with an unknown man. Angered that Thomas has taken pictures of her without her consent, Jane demands that he give her the roll of film they are on. He, however, refuses and develops the roll instead. Later, as he examines the pictures he has taken, Thomas realizes that they may reveal a murder of which he had been unaware when he was actually present in the park.

Michelangelo Antonioni's Blow Up is an entertaining, often inventive film, but, sadly, it is never in any way so distinctive or skillfully realized that it is likely to make a profound impression on the viewer.

I must, nevertheless, congratulate the director for telling a captivating tale filled with mysteries and not revealing the answers to all its riddles. Jane, for example, remains enigmatic throughout the film so that the viewer is left to wonder whether or not she was involved in the death of the man whose apparent murder Thomas discovers or if she even knew of his demise. In fact, the moviegoer is never even assured that a murder was meant to have occurred. By taking such an approach, Antonioni, instead of merely relating some trite detective story, has used a series of devices similar to those found in such films to draw the viewer into the fictional universe he has created and to involve him with its inhabitants.

Fortunately, most of these persons are genuinely captivating. Jane, as noted above, is always such a mystery that the viewer cannot help but be intrigued by the hints of her life the director gives him, but upon which he never elaborates. Thomas is even more engaging. He is a self-centered, self-involved, frequently cruel individual whose failings give him a marvellous sense of veracity. Over the course of the movie, by depicting how the character exploitatively uses the various women he encounters, Antonioni reveals Thomas' selfish perspectives and his inability to be deeply concerned about any person other than himself. At one point, for instance, he treats a fashion model very roughly, casually disregarding her opinions, ignoring her desires, and imposing his own upon her. Elsewhere, he has sex with a pair of ingenues who want him to take their pictures, making the viewer aware that the character sees them, at best, as playthings and, at worst, as nuisances. While Thomas may be a foul, unpleasant individual, he is, nonetheless, a wonderfully well realized person.

Visually, Blow Up is never truly beautiful, but its evocations of the city of London do have a real sense of life. Not only is the physical city always present in the film, with its damp streets and rows of brick building, but its denizens are sure to catch the viewer's fancy as well. Dressed in the boldly colored clothes fashionable at the time the movie was made and indulging in the pursuits, pleasures, and sins common to every age of human history, they really are wonderful to watch. Even though the moviegoer may not be stunned by the film's beauty, he is likely to be intrigued by the world it reveals to him.

While Antonioni has certainly not created a masterpiece in Blow Up, he has made an intriguing, appealing movie that is likely to captivate the viewer throughout its duration.

Review by Keith Allen

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