The other recent double feature I attended at WHC was the pairing of Antonioni's Il Grido (1957), The Outcry, and Bergman's Tystnaden (1963), The Silence, in honor of the directors' deaths at the end of July within hours of each other. I have to say that other pairings could have given the films more to say to each other. It seems the films were paired only in so far as they both manifested how relentlessly each director pursued his particular aesthetic. The films had little in common, though I suppose "silence" and "outcry," as titles and situations, do have a certain resonance.
The story itself was more "heart-felt" than the typical Antonioni movie, mostly because of Steve Cochran's very vulnerable performance as the lead character, Aldo. But to place the meaning of the film under those clichés of "alienation" and "lack of communication" strikes me as a bit ironic. In other words, those "big words that make us so unhappy" (to borrow Stephen's phrase) are also a failure to communicate. What I was struck by more, because I commented on Robinson's Housekeeping recently, was how Aldo's story is also the story of a drifter -- in this case expelled into movement by his mate's refusal to marry him, by her preference for someone else -- who can find no settled life. Which is to say, that it shows how loss can make someone a loser, not simply in the sense of "failure," but in the sense of one who loses things -- like affective ties, like a purpose or a goal, even as his old town is eventually given a purpose: to be bought and knocked down for airplane manufacture.
As to the images themselves: I generally watch Sven Nykvist's cinematography with rapt enthusiasm, but this film is so claustrophobic -- despite the long halls of the elegant hotel where the boy wanders -- so caught up in a language of facial closeups and closeups of glasses, pillows, headboards -- that it becomes oppressive (deliberately). Hard to watch after all those long, low flat horizons in Il Grido. The image from The Silence that stays with me is Ester leaning, exhausted and short of breath, on the door of the room where her sister has shacked up with a male lover from the street, as the troop of dwarves performing at the hotel parade by in costume. The last two -- a harlequin with a drum and a black-draped, white-faced death figure -- seem to stay longest on screen as they pass, hanging for a moment as, it seems, the only ones that register with Ester. It's a comic moment, but also cruel and so memorable. Rare enough are the moments in the film where I can say an image gives pleasure, rather than expressing the oppression of desire, the uselessness of language, the need for physical contact. The rest is silence.