Being John Malkovich Is No Fun In The Aimless 'Beyond The Clouds'

Posted: April 14, 2000

Can John Malkovich ever be taken seriously again?

In Beyond the Clouds - filmed by aging art-house god Michelangelo Antonioni well before Being John Malkovich saw the light of day, but only now getting a theatrical run - the actor, wrapped in a Third Man trenchcoat and an aura of brooding ennui, ambles about issuing ponderous declarations and hitting on the babes. It is hard not to think, watching him, that John Cusack or Cameron Diaz isn't squirreling around inside Malkovich's noggin; it is difficult to separate the pursed-lipped thespian of Spike Jonze's surreal gem from the pursed-lipped fellow staring off into the clouds, or the sea, or the Armani boutique where comely Sophie Marceau is folding sweaters, in Antonioni's impossible folly.

A collection of vignettes set in scenic, storm-lashed cities (Ferrara and Portofino, Italy, and Paris) and connected courtesy of Malkovich ("Malkovich! Malkovich!") and his trenchcoat, Beyond the Clouds seems to be about men and women making wrongheaded assumptions regarding one another, then having sex or not having sex - in either case coming away suffering a deep spiritual malaise. In his voice-overs, Malkovich - who plays "The Director," an Antonioni alter ego who has just completed a film and is now thinking of "the next time" - says something about photographing "surfaces" in an effort to get to what lies behind them.

This is poetic malarkey, along with a lot of the dialogue, such as this exchange between Malkovich and Marceau:

She: You remind me of [long pause] somebody.

He: Who?

She: I'm not sure yet.

The stunning Ines Sastre, playing a stunning schoolteacher, and the handsome Kim Rossi-Stuart, playing a handsome "water pump technician," open the film with a moody pas de deux of unrealized passion in a Ferrara hotel. The second installment follows Malkovich around blustery Portofino bay as he stalks shopgirl Marceau, and then beds her, discovering in the process that she has a dark secret: She stabbed her father to death. Part Three, set in Paris, shows Peter Weller as an expatriate American engaged in an affair with a young cafe denizen (Chiara Caselli) but still trying to keep things together with his French wife (Fanny Ardant). Jean Reno shows up, in a huge apartment with windows overlooking the city. Lastly, there's the story of a beautiful woman (Irene Jacob) who has shut herself off from the world and the beautiful man (Vincent Perez) who meets her on the street. This relationship, too, is fraught with sexual tension - and goes nowhere, wistfully.

Antonioni, who suffered a stroke in 1985 and was assisted in the filming of Beyond the Clouds by director Wim Wenders (responsible for the connecting Malkovich interludes), has lost none of his considerable talent for evoking a sense of place and of space. In his rain- and windswept cityscapes, Antonioni's cameras conjure up a profound, palpable air of melancholy, of mystery. But his characters are speaking nonsense - and a lot of very pretentious pick-up lines.

Steven Rea's e-mail address is srea@phillynews.com

BEYOND THE CLOUDS * * 1/2 Produced by Phillippe Carcassone and Stephane Tchal Gadjieff; directed by Michelangelo Antonioni and Wim Wenders; written by Antonioni, Wenders and Tonino Guerra; photography by Alfio Contini; music by Van Morrison, Passengers, Lucio Dalla and Laurent Petitgand; distributed by Sceneries Distribution. In French, Italian and English, with subtitles.

Running time: 1 hour, 45 mins.

With John Malkovich, Ines Sastre, Sophie Marceau, Irene Jacob.

Parent's guide: No MPAA rating (sexual situations, nudity, adult themes, ennui)

Showing at: Ritz at the Bourse

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