Blowup, Michelangelo Antonioni’s first English-language production, may definitely be called an unconventional movie, one that will make you think for a long time about the actual importance of the message that it delivers.
It’s a fascinating picture, showing that in the drug-infested, sexually overflowing and technically developed world of ours natural emotions and true feelings are being suppressed by various nihilistic pleasures, often stimulated by deeply materialistic prospects. On the humane level, this picture is able to tell more about the matter of personal relationships than any of the popular and sweet comedies ever will.
Moreover, this is Antonioni’s first picture about a man per se. This man, named Thomas (David Hemmings), is a swinging, stylish, emotionless magazine photographer based in London. His interchanging personality allows him to adapt to every situation, in which he has to take pictures – be it a random set of photos in a dusty flophouse, or a real fashion shoot in his luxurious studio. He treats women like objects, never giving them enough attention, and changes his partners like the proverbial underwear.
He is so devoted to his job and to his camera that he isn’t able to realize how detached he is from the society and how odd most of his actions might look like to an outsider. On one seemingly uneventful day he goes on a stroll in the nearby desolate park, where he finds a man and a woman walking around the trees affectionately. He decides to take a few quick snaps, and before he is able to leave the place the woman (Vanessa Redgrave), who seems frightened and suspiciously intent on getting these pictures right away, confronts him. Yet, he takes the camera to his apartment and starts to examine one photo after another. What he finds may put him in grave danger, as he begins to unravel a deadly mystery behind the events that took place on that day. The hints are in the details, and because of his perfect photographic abilities he is capable of uncovering every single clue that is hidden in the blowups.
This is a visually rich picture, built with glowing and colorful images, and focused mostly on the fashion sphere and the mod world, in which the main character lives. In all of this, there is also the sudden twist, the element of suspense that reminds somehow of a Hitchcockian picture, Rear Window. The protagonist finds out about a murder case that nobody was meant to uncover. He puts himself in a tough position, as he doesn’t know who was killed or why, and every action might have some serious consequences.
David Hemmings is very convincing, as this selfish, arrogant, cool, and nonchalant photographer, who is on the path to unravel a dark secret behind a few seemingly ordinary pictures. Vanessa Redgrave gives a very good performance as this overly anxious, yet seductive and beautiful mysterious woman.
Even though it might seem too long or hard to grasp for some people I still recommend it, as it is not only a fantastic take on London’s fashion circle in the 60’s, but also a disturbing and complex story about the dehumanizing power of photography. The metaphorical wall between perception and reality can be actually smaller than we might have previously imagined.