Michelangelo Antonioni (on the right) and Alida Valli in their old age
Michelangelo Antonioni (on the right) and Alida Valli in their old age

”Il Grido/The Cry” is the director’s examination of the traumatic encounter of an Italian industrial worker, a decent person and gentle soul with a fiasco of his marital relationship which destroys his whole life. No, there were no black shirts intervention into his life, nor allied bombings crushed the roof of his house. The events of the film take place during the period of economic-cultural modernization after WWII that after a long Mussolini’s rule was considered as an incredible luck for all the Italians.

Aldo doesn’t expect from life too much – he is happy just to live with the woman he loves, to have a stable job and help his daughter to grow up. But while a new promising period of intense economic and cultural development offered people opportunity to earn extra-money and enjoy more entertainment, these “benefits” were complicated by the destabilization of personal relationships, jobs and living arrangements and withdrawal from or losing concentration on political issues and thinking about life..

Antonioni focuses on Aldo’s love life which became nomadic and fractured and finally made it impossible for him to continue to live. “Il Grido” is a “proletarian” introduction to a number of Antonioni’s films about the problems of human love in post-war life (which he made after “Il Grido”) based on the life of middle class couples (L’Avventura – 1960, “La Notte” – 1960, “L’Eclisse” – 1961, and “Red Desert” – 1964).

Analyzing Aldo’s relationships with women Antonioni depicts what can be named as the four phases of de-privatization of intimate relationships which express degradation of amorous potentials of human love in conjunction with particularities of life under destabilizing conditions of a “nomadic” economy, mass culture of cheap entertainment and growing consumerism.

Relations with Irma (Alida Valli) whose rare gift of psychological wholeness of her reactions made her for Aldo a personification of Being which he could unconditionally rely on, he lost by unexpectedly learning from her about her infidelity. For him it was more than the break of togetherness with a woman he loved and the mother of his daughter – losing her was for Aldo like being banished from the very origins of life. The incredible, simultaneously sensual and “abstractly enigmatic” acting of Alida Valli made Irma a personification of Italy of economic miracle, which betrayed its children (Irma leaves, and Aldo became an eternal wanderer searching for love, jobs and hope).

Antonioni describes four phases of the shattering of the very human ability to love – psychological separation between love and sex (represented by Aldo’s relations with Alvia and Edera), intervention of despotic conditions of work into a private time (his relations with Virginia, the owner of a gas station), and intervention of other amorous/business relations into beloveds’ privacy (Aldo’s relationships with Andreina). Without love and without a decent job Aldo returns to his old town where he used to live with Irma and where she now lives with her new husband and their new born baby and Irma and Aldo’s daughter. Is Aldo return to die (without conscious intentions to be over-dramatic)?

It is Irma’s “cry” when she saw Aldo feeling lightheaded and losing his balance on the tower of the factory where he once worked, and falling down in front of her, what provided the title of the film and what signifies the inability of the human culture to care about its sons during the most prosperous and cheerful period of Western economy.

Antonioni is not idealizing Aldo – he doesn’t transform him into “pure victim” of circumstances or “system”. He tries to understand his psychological particularities (Aldo can share with others) which makes him unable to resist the dead ends modern culture puts under feet of many people as time bombs.

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Under the humiliation of Irma’s “betrayal”, that is the cousin of jealousy and twin of challenged masculinity, Aldo tries to treat her as the code of military loyalty perceives soldiers betraying their country and joining the enemy. Of course, wth Irma his macho behavior failed to work.

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Irma feels guilty, as a woman should in a machoistic culture, but she also has her own perspective on life and feeling of existential alternatives.

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Aldo is not vain enough to enjoy Alvia’s dependence and get a kick out of the feeling of being the king of her castle. Conversely, seeing her in this miserable role of being completely at his disposal made him not bored, but uneasy, unscomfortable and a little bit guilty, as if, he did something wrong.

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Aldo is shamed and desperate that he, without stable place and job, cannot keep his daughter with him – his self-image as a decent person rooted in circumstances and in charge of his destiny is collapsing.

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On his way back to his hometown – the place where he was so happy with Irma and little Rosina, Aldo is passing Viriginia’s house and gas-station, where he tried not without some success to make a new life.

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Aldo sees Irma happy with her new baby and understands what is so obvious – that there is no place for him anymore, that he is superfluous, that he is becoming a homo sacer, that the world, like the shack of the witch from the fairy-tale is turning to him with its back.

Posted on 23 Aug 2014 –   Michelangelo Antonioni’s “Il Grido/The Cry” (1957) – Shattering Of Intimacy Between Man And Woman In Industrial And Post-Industrial Modernity by Acting-Out Politics