July 31, 2007 / 9:09 AM / 13 years ago

Italian filmmaker Antonioni dies at 94

ROME (Reuters) - Michelangelo Antonioni, one of Italy’s most influential post-war film directors whose portrayals of modern angst and alienation won him a cult following, has died aged 94.

Director Michelangelo Antonioni poses alongside a poster for his film "The Passenger" in a 2005 photo. Antonioni, one of the most famous Italian filmmakers of all time, died late on Monday at the age of 94, city officials in Rome said on Tuesday. REUTERS/Chris Pizzello

Antonioni’s career spanned six decades and he was honored with an Oscar for lifetime achievement in 1995, when he had been felled by a stroke and could barely talk.

His works included the Oscar-nominated “Blowup”, “Zabriskie Point” and the internationally acclaimed “L’Avventura” (The Adventure).

His death late on Monday night followed that of Swedish director Ingmar Bergman, who died on Monday aged 89.

“For the second time in 24 hours, the world of cinema feels orphaned,” Gilles Jacob, the veteran president of the Cannes Film Festival, was quoted as saying by Italy’s Ansa news agency.

He called Antonioni the “alchemist of intimacy, the architect of space and time in contemporary cinema”.

President Giorgio Napolitano said Italy had “lost one of cinema’s greatest protagonists and one of the greatest explorers of expression in the 20th century”.

Antonioni’s body will lie in state on Wednesday morning at Rome’s city hall. His funeral is scheduled for Thursday in his native Ferrara.

His deliberately slow-moving and oblique movies were not always crowd-pleasers but films such as “L’Avventura” made Antonioni’s work a touchstone for directors like Martin Scorsese, who has described him as a poet with a camera.

FILM CRITIC

Born in 1912 in the northern Italian city of Ferrara, Antonioni studied business and economics at Bologna university and briefly even worked at a bank, before becoming a film critic in the 1930s.

His first real involvement in film-making came when he helped write the script of Roberto Rossellini’s 1942 “Una Pilota Ritorna” (A Pilot Returns).

He directed his first feature film, “Cronaca di un amore” (“Story of a Love Affair”), in 1950.

Over the next two decades Antonioni directed some of the greatest stars in post-war Italian cinema, like Marcello Mastroianni, but it was not until the 1960s that he emerged on the international stage.

After winning favorable reviews at the 1957 Cannes Film Festival with “Il Grido” (“The Cry”) he scored his first real international success in 1960 with “L’Avventura”, an exploration of the emotional sterility of modern society.

His second breakthrough picture came in 1966 with the English-language “Blowup”, set in “swinging 60s” London which turned him into a cult figure for moviegoers and moviemakers.

Many hailed him as a founding father of European avant-garde cinema although some audiences found his pictures, with their long, lingering shots, both plodding and pretentious.

Next came “Zabriskie Point” in 1970 and “The Passenger”, starring Jack Nicholson, in 1975.

Director Michelangelo Antonioni and his wife accept an honorary Oscar from actor Jack Nicholson during the 67th Annual Academy Awards in Los Angeles in a 1995 photo. Antonioni, one of the most famous Italian filmmakers of all time, died late on Monday at the age of 94, city officials in Rome said on Tuesday. REUTER/Gary Hershorn

Largely absent from filmmaking after a stroke in the 1980s, he returned to acclaim in 1995 with “Al di la delle nuvole” (Beyond the Clouds), based on his own short stories. The film was co-directed by Germany’s Wim Wenders.

His final work, in 2004, was a segment of “Eros”.

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