Zabriskie Point (1970)

Review #1,640






THE SCOOP
Director:  Michelangelo Antonioni
Cast:  Mark Frechette, Daria Halprin
Plot:  At Zabriskie Point, an undergraduate dreamer and a young hippie student meet as strangers.

Genre:  Drama
Awards:  -
Runtime:  113 mins
Rating:  R21 (passed clean) for sexual scenes
Source:  Park Circus - Warner Bros

IN RETROSPECT (Spoilers: NO)
“What do you do besides fly airplanes?”

In Michelangelo Antonioni’s remarkable career, Zabriskie Point unfortunately sticks out like a sore thumb.  It was not just an ill-advised experiment that was shot in the US (though he was contracted to do so with MGM after his renowned producer Carlo Ponti signed him up for a three-film deal to shoot outside of Italy), but was flanked by two other great features that were primarily shot in Western Europe—Blow-Up (1966) and The Passenger (1975)—that were part of the MGM deal.

Most would find Zabriskie Point to be tedious to watch, not in the meandering sense (after all, most films of the legendary director are meandering), but that it seemed like it had a lot to say but achieved little in the process.  I found it frustrating to see, despite being impressed at selected points in the film when Antonioni’s keen eye for striking landscapes remained consistent with his body of work.

One extraordinary sequence involving a woman in a car and a man in an airplane as the latter attempts to ‘tease’ her with his dive-bombing skills echoes in imagery and tension the famous crop-dusting scene in Hitchcock’s North by Northwest (1959).  Another unforgettable sequence, perhaps the film’s most infamous, is the orgy montage at ‘Zabriskie Point’, where naked bodies frolic in the sands.  It is, however, strange to contemplate because it neither feels titillating, nor is it worth the slog as it goes on far longer than warranted.

Starring Mark Frechette and Daria Halprin in their debut screen performance as the two leads who serendipitously meet far away from urban civilisation, Zabriskie Point sees Antonioni trying to execute a love story that transcends space, capturing the momentousness of their meeting and love-making as if they would go on to change the world.  Beginning with a heated discussion by a large group of students on a plan to rebel against the authorities, the film continues the anti-establishment stance with an almost overbearing indictment on capitalism and media saturation, plus a light touch of nihilism.

It would have been a much more effective work had Antonioni treated the film’s sociopolitical themes with greater dexterity.  The narrative’s loose plotting also doesn’t help its cause, with characterisations of the lead duo surprisingly weak.  In a warped sense, one might get the feeling that the film doesn’t really care about what you think; inevitably, it is also difficult to forge any kind of meaningful connection with it, apart from time to time admiring the fact that with Zabriskie Point, Antonioni did try something substantially different despite the miscalculated missteps.

Verdict:  Tedious at times with an overbearing anti-Americanism, this was an experimental misstep by Antonioni who seemed to want to say a lot but achieved little in the process.

GRADE: C+







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