As a somewhat belated way of honoring the late Michelangelo Antonioni, the New Beverly Cinema could have picked no smarter a bill of two of the great Italian filmmaker’s more unjustly overlooked films than Il grido (1957) and the wildly provocative California acid trip Zabriskie Point (1970). Il grido is by far the lesser seen and discussed of the pair (road movies both), yet it is absolutely crucial to comprehending what brought the curtain down on Italian neorealism and why Antonioni was the director most responsible for ushering in cinema’s modern era. Though his early documentary, Gente del Po, might be termed a kind of neorealist gaze at hardy river folk, Antonioni couldn’t stomach the movement’s sentimentality and dramatic contrivances, and instead made features in the ’50s that considered middle-class, urban youth as well as film’s capacity for visualizing interior states of mind. With Il grido, Antonioni mastered this exceptionally ambitious project. As a tale of factory worker Aldo (American actor Steve Cochran), who has a breakup with his longtime lover Irma (Alida Valli) and leaves home with his young daughter to get a new grasp on life, the film cunningly borrows many neorealist tropes and then rattles them until they splinter. Viewers may at first think they’ve stumbled into a Vittorio De Sica movie involving struggling laborers and their cute kids, but the odyssey here proceeds not toward a final enlightenment or insight, but outward through vast, limitless landscapes that Antonioni brilliantly conceives as physical correlatives for Cochran’s state of mind. It’s best to watch Antonioni’s next film ahead of time as well as one of his masterpieces, L’avventura, on Criterion’s fabulous DVD edition, to appreciate that it was actually in 1957 when the director began taking daring strides away from the literary and dramatic conventions that had to that point burdened much of moviemaking. (Il grido, 7:30 p.m.; Zabriskie Point, 9:45 p.m.; Wed.-Thurs.; New Beverly Cinema)
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