Identification of a Woman was Michelangelo Antonioni’s last solo feature film. He was around 70 when he made it, and while there is some good cinematography from long-time collaborator Carlo Di Palma, it’s just not that great. It’s basically Antonioni’s take on 8½, but unfortunately, it’s about as lifeless as a movie could possibly be.
It stars Tomas Milian as a director, Niccolò, who is clearly modelled on Antonioni himself. He has just been left by his wife, then goes after another woman who spurns him, and chases some more women around. Then Niccolò decides to make a film about relationships with women, and starts looking for an actress for the film. Very Italian premise, but it lacks the surrealism, humour or storyline of 8½. In fact, it’s the kind of film that reads like a parody of the worst aspects of European art cinema, with all the pretentious elements you can think of. Along with 8½, the other film that comes to mind is Fellini’s City of Women, which has a similar trajectory but a much more surreal aspect.
Tomas Millian was mainly known for his work in spaghetti Westerns, plus supporting parts in Hollywood films or European art cinema, so he was an odd choice for the lead. In the end, the journey Niccolò goes on is pointless, and you really do not care at all about anyone in the film. There is a little bit of atmosphere in a few sequences, and there are some great shots of fog. It also has an interesting soundtrack by John Foxx, of all people, and it’s a pretty good early-80s post-punky synth score. On top of that, it has some other music from that era, including songs from XTC, Japan, OMD and Tangerine Dream.
Identification of a Woman never found US distribution beyond its debut at the New York Film Festival, although it did have a cinematic release across Europe. Due to one scathingly negative review from Vincent Canby of the New York Times, the film was dropped by its US distributor and only played a couple more film festival dates over the next several years. It didn’t find a proper distributor until 1996, with a VHS release following from Facets in 2000, and was not seen widely until the 2011 Criterion edition. Artificial Eye did release a UK edition in 1983.
Just three years later Antonioni had a stroke, but he did go on to make one more film, Beyond the Clouds (also about a director). Wim Wenders shot some of that one, and co-wrote the script.
Special features include a new introduction from film historian Pasquale Iannone, Antonioni’s Final Masterpiece; a full-length 2005 documentary, With Michelangelo; a half-hour 2021 interview, Identification of a Director with Enrica Antonioni; and four trailers that play before the film for 8½, Story of a Love Affair, The Night Porter and The Ape Woman.