IL GRIDO (1957)

Randwick Ritz, Sydney:

Saturday May 04

Lido Cinemas, Melbourne:

Saturday May 11

Rating: Unclassified 15+
Duration: 116  minutes
Country: Italy, United States
Language: Italian (English subtitles)
Cast: Steve Cochran, Alida Valli, Dorian Gray
Director: Michelangelo Antonioni



The conclusion at which my characters arrive is not moral anarchy. They come, at most, to a kind of shared pity. This, you may say, is nothing new. But without that, what is left to us?” – Michelangelo Antonioni

Antonioni’s fifth feature was his first to demonstrate the distinctive style and content that would become the signature of his illustrious career. Aldo (Steve Cochran) has lost the woman he loves to somebody else, and feeling excluded from life, wanders through damp and desolate Po Valley landscapes, reflecting on his emotional loss. Unlike his future films, Antonioni’s main character is working class rather than middle class and Penelope Houston sees Aldo as “the sort of character who would rather sit suffering in the rain than walk to a shelter”. His ennui and isolation demonstrate “‘Eros is sick’, men are living by outdated moralities…in an age in which emotional life is out of step with advancing technologies.” This 4K restoration comes courtesy of The Film Foundation and Cineteca di Bologna.

Introduced by Noa Steimatsky at Ritz Cinemas and Vincent Giarusso at Lido Cinemas.

If, in the year 1960, an individual can be a prisoner of his feelings in this way, then the concept of love that society has taught him is a corrupt one.” – Gérard Gozlan

Antonioni’s films, especially his early films, also question the functions of industry, institutions and the economy.” – James Brown, Senses of Cinema

A major transitional film in the career of Michelangelo Antonioni as he moved from neo-realism to the elliptical, mannered style of his next picture L’avventura.” – Philip French

Presented with the support of IIC Sydney and IIC Melbourne. 

By Jane Mills
Antonioni was born in 1912 to a wealthy family of landowners in Ferrara, in north-eastern Italy.  After studying economics and commerce at the University of Bologna he made his first connection with cinema as a film critic for the local newspaper. Two years later he almost made a documentary about a mental asylum but the inmates were so traumatised when he switched on the lights that the would-be director was himself too traumatised to start filming.

Moving to Rome in the late 1930s Antonioni wrote for the official Fascist film magazine but was soon sacked. He briefly enrolled in the national film school where he made a short film about a prostitute who blackmails a bourgeois woman. He then collaborated on the screenplay for Roberto Rossellini’s patriotic drama, Un pilota ritorna (A Pilot Returns, 1941), a film of which neither felt proud.

Drafted into the army, Antonioni initially avoided combat by going to Paris as an assistant to the poetic realist filmmaker, Marcel Carné. Antonioni stayed only a week as Carné didn’t much like him, as he later recalled:

… it was 1942 and France had been occupied by the Italians, and therefore we weren’t very popular. Carné who belonged to the left…would not even give me the chance to explain to him that, more or less, my political views were no different to his. Therefore it was very difficult to get along with him, and… I didn’t even like his way of filming or of directing the actors. I don’t believe I learned much from him…. I think I learned from him how to use the camera at a certain angle.

In 1944 Antonioni made his first film, the short documentary Gente di Po (People of the Po Valley), a strongly realistic and intensely poetic film of which he later said: ‘Everything I did after, good or bad as it might have been, started from there.’ After the war, he worked as a translator, film critic and scriptwriter and made another short documentary, N.U. (aka Nettezza urbana, 1948), a study of streetcleaners and rubbish collectors in Rome that won an important critics’ prize. This was followed by several more shorts and a treatment for a romantic comedy Lo sceicco bianco (The White Sheik, Federico Fellini, 1952).  

In the 1950s Antonioni made several shorts and five feature films with varying degrees of commercial and critical success, culminating in Il grido (1957), which was especially successful in France, although less so in Italy where he was criticised for casting an American, Steve Cochran, in the lead male role. With L'avventura (1960) starring Monica Vitti, his muse and lover, Antonioni gained international recognition, although not everyone loved his rejection of contemporary filmic codes and conventions:  the decision of the Cannes Jury to award the film the prize for best film was greeted by boos and catcalls. Later that night, a group of influential filmmakers (including Roberto Rossellini) released a statement expressing their admiration for Antonioni: the trend was set for boos at Cannes to be a badge of honour.

His next films, La notte (The Night, 1961), L'eclisse (Eclipse, 1962), and Il deserto rosso (Red Desert, 1964), cemented his reputation as an art-house filmmaker, with their coolly intense fascination for exploring emotional fragility in the modern world, one in which women ache for emotional connections that are no longer possible and men are oblivious to their pain. Antonioni then took his concerns about a world dominated by a preoccupation with money and status in a different direction. With the hugely successful Blow-up (1966) and the less successful Zabriskie Point (1969), he depicts his vision of the prevailing youth counter-culture with its dope-smoking, swinging hipsters and would-be revolutionaries. Antonioni was then invited by the Chinese government to make a documentary, Chung-kuo – Cina (Chung Kuo -China, 1972), on contemporary life in China. Chinese officialdom denounced it (as did the Italian Communist Party); they banned it and threatened to break diplomatic relations with any country that showed it.

Back in Italy, Antonioni made Professione: Reporter (The Passenger, 1970), a moody, neo-noir starring Jack Nicholson. This did poorly at the box office but was critically acclaimed and particularly admired for its astonishing, seven-minute, tracking shot that took eleven days to set up and film. In his subsequent films, Antonioni continued experimenting – exploring the electronic treatment of colour for example, and, perhaps perversely, rejecting his trademark slow pans and long tracking shots.

In the late 1980s a stroke left Antonioni partially paralyzed. Unstoppable, he made a feature, Al di là delle nuvole (Beyond the Clouds, 1995), for which the investors hired the German director Wim Wenders to step in if Antonioni proved unable to direct. Wenders says he simply watched in awe as Antonioni put his vision on film.  He made his final film, a short entitled Il filo pericoloso delle cose (The Dangerous Thread of Things, 2004), for the anthology Eros with Wong Kar-wai and Steven Soderberg. Three years later Antonioni died, aged 94. After lying in state at City Hall in Rome, he was buried in his hometown of Ferrara.

Antonioni’s films didn’t please everyone. Pier Paolo Pasolini joked meanly: ‘I don’t like Antonioni, abstract art, or electronic music.’ François Truffaut thought him ‘solemn and humourless.’ Ingmar Bergman accused him of being ‘suffocated by his own tediousness.’  Orson Welles didn’t “get” Antonioni, commenting:

I don't like to dwell on things. It's one of the reasons I'm so bored with Antonioni—the belief that, because a shot is good, it's going to get better if you keep looking at it. He gives you a full shot of somebody walking down a road. And you think, “Well, he's not going to carry that woman all the way up that road.” But he does. And then she leaves and you go on looking at the road after she's gone.

His admirers, however, are legion: Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Brian De Palma, Steven Soderberg, Pedro Almodóvar, Sophia Coppola and Guillermo Del Toro are among those who acknowledge the debt they owe to Antonioni. Gus Van Sant, Carlos Reygadas, Kelly Reichardt, Andrey Zvyagintsev, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Lav Diaz and Jia Zhangke are some of the notable directors who have adopted a cinematic approach that Antonioni largely pioneered. As the critic Stephen Dalton notes, his influential aesthetic of extremely long takes, striking modernist architecture, painterly use of colour and depictions of tiny human figures adrift in empty landscapes, ‘often felt more like modern art than cinema.’

“The subject of Il grido came to mind while I was looking at a wall…this is a mystery to me…”
–   Antonioni

After a seven-year relationship with refinery mechanic Aldo (Steve Cochran) in a small rural town near Ferrara in the Po Valley, Irma (Alida Valley) learns that her husband, one of the many Italian migrant workers to Australia in the 1950s, has died. Aldo is happy: at last he and Irma can marry and provide legitimacy for their young daughter, Rosina (Mirna Girardi). But Irma has fallen in love with another man. She tells Aldo their relationship is over. He tries to make Irma stay, even resorting to violence and public humiliation. This only makes Irma all the more determined to end their relationship.

An inconsolable Aldo leaves town, taking Rosina with him. He wanders this way and that, half-heartedly trying to find work. He is as emotionally empty and flattened as the landscape which is unremittingly grey…grey…grey. The scene where he waves goodbye to Rosina as she returns to her mother is unbearable for him—and for us: she was his last remaining link to Irma. Travelling aimlessly on (the film has become a road movie of sorts) Aldo meets women with energy, resilience and resourcefulness, all of which he sorely lacks. Some offer him a home and love, or the possibility of it, but nothing can ward off Aldo’s soul-destroying certainty that Irma no longer loves him.

Aldo returns to the town where he once lived with Irma, who is now happily married with a young baby. Hearing he’s in town, Irma goes to find him. But Aldo knows there is no chance of a future with Irma. Indeed, there is little chance of any future at all. He climbs up the tower in the refinery where we first met him. As Irma looks up, Aldo looks down. We are left with the sound of Irma’s grido (cry) ringing in our ears.

Il grido was awarded the Golden Leopard at the 1957 Locarno International Film Festival. In 1958 the Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists awarded it the Silver Ribbon and Gianni Di Venanzo won the prize for Best Cinematography. In 2008, it was included on the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage’s list of 100 films that changed the collective memory of the country to be saved for posterity.

Neorealism, landscape, women and casting

As the last of Antonioni’s early period films, Il grido has often been regarded as an aesthetically inferior work in the neorealist mould, and little more than a transition to his internationally acclaimed 1960s films. Critics described it as neorealist and stressed the psychological symbolism of the film’s bleak landscape and of the protagonist’s aimless journey at the expense of what else is going on in this remarkable film.

Neorealism: As well as focusing on the lives of working-class people, a key characteristic of Italian neorealism, Il Grido also uses the neorealist strategy of using actual locations. The Po Valley has likely never looked quite so bleak: it is mistily and depressingly, yet lovingly, filmed by Gianni Di Venanzo whose credits would include La notte and L'eclisse for Antonioni, Francesco Rosi’s La sfida (The Challenge, 1958), and Fellini’s 8½ (1963) and Giulietta degli spiriti (Juliet of the Spirits, 1965). But while Antonioni’s filmic awakening coincided with the height of Italian neorealism, his inclination lay in the direction of poetic expressiveness. If neorealism was obsessed with the visible, Antonioni was always at least as interested in the not-seen as in what is realistically there.

Landscape: The extraordinary, unforgettable landscape in Il grido can’t be allowed to obscure the fact that the film is also a depiction of ‘a working-class rural milieu experiencing the rapid encroachment of modernisation.’  There are misty, foggy, freezing, soggy, sodden landscapes and land aplenty.  But we also see a new, highly mobile lifestyle – speedboats, dredgers, petrol stations, gas trucks and expensive cars: modernity involves displacing the traditional, rural life of small farmers and an emerging economically powerful, industrialised urban middle class hand in glove with the state to suppress any workers’ revolt.

Women: Il grido is often described as the story of the aimlessly drifting Aldo: ‘the tragic search of a man for a lost love… realistically bereft of hope…’, as the New York Times critic wrote. But a masculinist focus on the main male protagonist, Aldo, can’t be allowed to obscure the crucial, and crucially active, role that women play. The first character we meet is the sexually independent Irma who sets everything in motion. It’s because of her determination to pursue her own desires that we get to meet the other strong, resilient and resourceful women whom Aldo encounters and who provide the film’s moral strength. As critic A.O. Scott writes, Antonioni’s ‘fascination with women is inflected by a sympathy that might be called feminist. The main characters pursue their desires and ambitions under constraints imposed by custom and by the brute impossibility of men.’ The very last sound we hear is Irma’s cry: she cries not for herself, nor, I suspect, for Aldo, but for the inability of men like Aldo to overcome their apathy in order to survive.

Asked ‘Where did all [your] lively and unusual interest in portraying female characters come from?’, Antonioni replied:

“Probably from my personal history. I have always been around women…the problems that are common to women have always filled my house and my life. I would like to make a film called ‘Identification of a Woman’ to express my love for and interest in women through the relationship of one male character with many women. Women provide a much more subtle and uneasy filtering of reality than men do and they are much more capable of making sacrifices and feeling love. While living around women, I have often had moments of compete exasperation, and I have felt locked in, suffocated, with a strong urge to escape, and sometimes I did leave. The truth is I still like women very much.”

Not that Antonioni let his love and interest in women interfere with the need for realism. Criticised for portraying a factory worker in an unrealistic manner he replied:

“Well – I went to tell the story of Il Grido to factory workers around Ferrara and also in Rome. They made some comments and I took notes of them. For example, in the scene where Also slaps his wife [it takes] place in their house. As a good bourgeois I thought that these things should be resolved at home, I was wrong, the workers told me that a man who acts in such a way is foolish—he should slap his wife in public to prove he is a man. So, I followed their advice and shot the scene in the village’s piazza. I think it came out much better that way.” 

Casting: Steve Cochran was not the only foreign actor in the film. The Academy-nominated American, Betsy Blair, plays Elvia, Aldo’s former girlfriend who eventually pushes Aldo away upon learning he only returned to her because Irma had left him. The British actor Jacqueline Jones (as Lyn Shaw) plays Andrena, a spirited prostitute who has no time for Aldo’s spinelessness. His casting choices caused the director some headaches: 

“that excellent actress Betsy Blair wanted to go over the script with me, and she would ask me for an explanation of every line. Those hours I spent with her going over the script were the most hellish hours of my life, since I was forced to invent meanings that weren’t there at all. However, they were the meanings she had wanted me to give her, so she was satisfied.” 

With Steve Cochran I had to do something quite different, he – who knows why – had come to Italy expecting to find a directing job – which was just absurd! Therefore every once in a while he would refuse to do something, saying that he didn’t feel it was necessary. So I was forced to direct him with some tricks – not letting him know what I wanted from him, but trying to get it through means that he absolutely didn’t suspect. 

The distributors, Antonioni explained:

“definitely wanted a foreigner, they thought that an American name would be more appealing to the public. But I must say that I did like Steve Cochran in the film. If no one knew he was American, if his name had been “Sergio Michelini”, no one would have objected to him.”


Il grido’s ambiguous ending always engenders intense debate. Do we know what really happens?  But there are two things that can be said with certainty:  that Aldo is lost to himself, as film historian Noa Steimatsky writes, is all too clear; as is Antonioni’s love of ambiguity.  It is this ambiguity that makes the ending all the more devastating.But two things can be said with certainty:  that Aldo is lost to himself, as film historian Noa Steimatsky writes, is all too clear; as is Antonioni’s love of ambiguity. It is this ambiguity that makes the ending all the more devastating.

Presenting Antonioni’s honorary Academy award in 1995, Jack Nicholson expressed what so many feel about this great filmmaker:

while most films celebrate the way we connect with one another, the films of Antonioni mourn the failure to connect…. In the empty, silent spaces of the world, he has found metaphors that illuminate the silent places in our hearts, and found in them, too, a strange and terrible beauty: austere, elegant, enigmatic, haunting.

Acknowledgments & sources

I acknowledge the Bidgigal and the Gadigal peoples of the Eora nation and the Wiradyuri people, the traditional owners of the unceded land on which I work and live. Always was, always will be, Aboriginal land.

Main sources:
Michelangelo Antonioni (1996), The Architecture of Vision: Writings & Interviews on Cinema. Marsilio Publishers.

James Brown, (2003) ‘Il Grido: Modernising the Po’, Senses of Cinema, 26.

Peter Brunette (1998), The Films of Michelangelo Antonioni. Cambridge U.P. 

Stephen Dalton (2020 ) ‘What Antonioni’s movies mean in the era of mindfulness and #MeToo’

Penelope Houston, Obituary, The Guardian, 2 Aug 2007.

Kevin Z. Moore (1995) ’Eclipsing the Commonplace: The Logic of Alienation in Antonioni's Cinema,’ Film Quarterly, 48 (4).

Julie Ravary (2010)  ‘Femme Antonionienne’, offscreen, 14 (4).

A.O. Scott, Review. New York Times, 18 July 2010.

Noa Steimatsky, (2008) ‘Aerial: Antonioni’s Modernism’ in Italian Locations: Reinhabiting the Past in Postwar Cinema. University of Minnesota Press.

Noa Steimatsky, (2014) ‘Pass/Fail: The Antonioni Screen Test’, Framework: The Journal of Cinema and Media, 55 (2).

Restored by The Film Foundation and Cineteca di Bologna at L’Immagine Ritrovata laboratory, in association with Compass Film. Funding provided by Hobson/Lucas Family Foundation.

Director: Michelangelo Antonioni; Production Companies: SPA Cinemaografica, Robert Alexander Productions; Producer: Franco Cancellieri; Script: Michelangelo Antonioni, Elio Bartolini, Ennio De Concini; Photography: Gianni Di Venanzo; Editor: Eraldo Da Roma; Art Direction & Set Decoration: Franco Fontana; Sound: Vittorio Trentino; Music: Giovanni Fusco; Costumes: Pia Marchesi.

Cast; Steve Cochran (Aldo), Alida Valli (Irma), Betsy Blair (Elvia), Dorian Gray (Virginia), Lyn Shaw (Andreina), Gabriella Pallotti (Edera).

Italy| 1957 | 117 mins | 4K DCP | B&W| Italian with English subtitles| UC15+

Cinema Reborn acknowledges the traditional custodians of the land on which we live, learn and work. We acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s continuing connection to land, waters and culture. We pay our respects to Elders past and present and extend this respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People.