Ferdinando Cito Filomarino’s 2015 film Antonia is billed as a biopic about the mid-century Italian poet, Antonia Pozzi (1912-1938), a woman unpublished in her lifetime and unsure of her calling as a poet. (Today she is considered one of the most important 20th century Italian poets.) The film underscores Antonia’s lineage as the daughter of a Milanese countess and a stern, successful lawyer, but this elite lineage, while guaranteeing an elite and thorough education, did not assure her happiness or security. She took her life with an overdose of sleeping pills at the age of 26. (This image below shows her about to remove the bottle of pills from her jacket.)
Filomarino’s film is hardly driven by plot. Much of it simply lingers on Antonia’s body stretched, draped, arched, or scrunched over desks, beds, grass, and tables. The camera frequently cuts to close-ups of her hands (writing, wringing, rubbing) or feet (pushing off socks, caressing the bedsheets). Her world is shot either on very grey days or with a filter that so denatures the ambient colors that the entire film almost feels like a series of sepia-toned photographs. (Below Antonia is in post-op recovery after trying to bear the pain of appendicitis. Her male friend of the moment took her to hospital.)
Perhaps the film’s uncaptioned attention to Antonia’s micromovements of her body encourages viewers to speculate on her unseen cognitive processes–as if to suppose that we are seeing the body of a poet poetizing and though we can’t see the wordcraft forming inside of her, we can view the restless flesh that awaits the synthesizing results of that wordcraft.
That could be. I confess I found the connection between the film’s cinematography and Antonia’s poetry closer to something like Benjamin’s Arcade Project, the attempt by the film to capture the textures of an ephemeral and now-vanished sensorium, the textured life that, as felt, Antonia transfigured into words. In this view, her restless body in the film is not an index of unseen mental activity but rather is the poetry itself as it feels the world and life that ignite and catalyze a transfiguration into words.
To have two long wings
and fold them up against your pain;
to be shadow, the peace
around your faded
Antonia Pozzi, May 1934
Much of the scenes in this film are unexplained. In the middle, Antonia seems to leave her father’s mountain house, where she has secreted away a former Greek professor-turned-lover, in order to trek to a rock-climbing lesson. Antonia appears open and joyful as she meets her instructor and watches him climb up, inserting pins in the rock as he goes. Tied to him, she follows after and they both mount the top of the peak. She is high, fierce, and isolated, but surrounded by a glorious beauty.
Somehow, the way this sequence is filmed, I sense that the point is not that Antonia has mastered the peak but that she has merged her physical self with the physical world around her, that the two physics are not separate, one against the other, but in a confluence. Her poetry, the words of her poems, also are like colored glass vessels into which she pours this merging confluence so that we, her readers, can see and feel it.