“She isn’t my wife, really. We just have some kids. No, no kids, not even kids. Sometimes, though, it feels as if we had kids. She isn’t beautiful, she’s… easy to live with. No, she isn’t. That’s why I don’t live with her.”
‘Blow-up’, directed by Michelangelo Antonioni in 1966, is an Italian-British thriller set in London. It features Thomas a fashion photographer, played by David Hemmings, who, in the course of taking photographs of a couple in a park, believes he has also accidentally exposed a murder. It’s a film of ambiguities and misdirection. On the surface it feels like it should be a psychological thriller along the lines of Hitchcock, but Antonioni resists this. Every moment that could bring tension, the director subverts and instead focuses on the surface detail of Thomas’s world. This is not to say that the movie isn’t exciting, but the interest it sustains is heightened by the realisation of what the director is achieving and with the pleasure of an insight into the now distant atmosphere of London in the 1960s. The constant deflection away from the tropes of the thriller genre is not only teasing, it also acts as part of a major theme of the film. In the last scene, Thomas encounters a troupe of mime artists in the park and watches them silently play tennis without rackets or a ball. The last action Thomas makes is to join in this game by retrieving the non-existent ball and throwing it back to them, at which point we, the audience, start to hear the game being played. This seems to act as a commentary on both the murder in the film, an act we don’t see and are only witness to the fuzzy and indistinct evidence of it, but also the feeling of watching the movie itself. ‘Blow-up’ is a film that seems to be about a murder, a conspiracy and an investigation, but all these are no more real than the mimes’ tennis ball. The insubstantial nature of the plot and the film itself also has a broader significance, it seems at times that Antonioni is commenting on the empty and superficial nature of the people he is depicting, the photographers and model, and on the fragile and transient zeitgeist of the ‘swinging sixties’. Watching the film, we are like Thomas, suspending our disbelief and picking up the ball, willing it into existence and willing ourselves to hear it bounce.
Would I recommend it? Yes – if you have any interest in seeing another side to the 1960s, Antonioni’s film rootles under the surface of the inculcated style of the time and exposes its empty heart.