A film director (John Malkovich) is travelling around Europe, having recently completed work on his latest film and now considering subjects for his next opus. He muses over his efforts and life in general, wondering about how time seems to change everything when in fact people remain the same, which brings him to the topic of a possible candidate for filming, a story from Ferrara where a young man (Kim Rossi-Stuart) met a young woman (Inés Sastre) while asking for directions to a good hotel in the town. It turned out that she was staying at the place he chose, and a relationship developed - except they had spent hardly any time together...
Beyond the Clouds was the first film director Michelangelo Antonioni had made since his debilitating stroke which he had suffered ten years before; it had left him with very little ability to communicate, which made it all the more remarkable that he was able to helm this project at all. He did have assistance, of course, and that help was fellow European director Wim Wenders who interpreted his instructions in what must have been a painstaking operation, and might leave one pondering on whether this was more a Wenders film than an Antonioni, especially as the finished result could fit neatly into either of their bodies of work.
Many praised this as proof that his condition had not dimmed his creativity any, but in truth it wasn't really up to the heights of his best efforts, being episodic - the narrative is actually four plots that Malkovich's nameless director is trying to decide up on - and remote, as you find it hard to believe that a full-length feature could be made from any of these vignettes. The first is promising, with the relationship that never really was as the two lovers fail to get it on, meet two years later, jump into bed with each other and before anything significant can happen, he gets up and leaves, leaving her at a loss.
Possibly to be seen as the difficulties faced when you find yourself more fulfilled by not being with the one you love than being with them? Is there anyone who thinks like that, other than hopeless romantics with commitment phobias? Well, it's food for thought if nothing else, which is more than can be said of the fictional director's next idea, where apparently he thought it would be good to make a porn film. He follows Sophie Marceau, she confronts him, tells him that she killed her father, then they, that's right, jump into bed, offering a treat for Marceau's fans as we get to see her in the altogether, but not exactly offering up anything profound. Indeed, most of the actresses with speaking roles here end up disrobing at some point.
Maybe Michelangelo had something on his mind? In the third story, Peter Weller is enchanted with a young woman (Chiara Caselli) who talks to him in a cafe about some story she's read in a magazine, which leads to them having an affair with the full knowledge of his wife, Fanny Ardant, which doesn't go anywhere in particular either except that she eventually moves out and ends up at the apartment of Jean Reno, who is also suffering marital problems. Finally, the most artistic and whimsical effort, where Vincent Perez follows Irène Jacob to church, they have a vague conversation, dance around each other and just when he thinks he's getting somewhere, she drops a bombshell as if it were the punchline of a joke. So ending on that rather silly note, we are left with more of an emotional mood than anything to fuel intellects as Malkovich contemplates the infinite; you probably get as much out of this as you put into it.
Although he divided audiences into those who found his mysterious works pretentious or fascinatingly enigmatic, this celebrated Italian writer and director was always interesting and stylish. L'Avventura in 1960 was his international breakthrough although he'd been directing since the forties, and he followed it with La Notte, L'Eclisse, The Red Desert, Blowup (perhaps his most famous film), Zabriskie Point (with its explosive climax), The Passenger and Identification of a Woman among others. He even continued working after serious stroke, Beyond the Clouds being his best known film from his later period.
Wim Wenders (1945 - )
German director and writer and one of modern cinema's most important European filmmakers. Wenders films tend to blend social commentary with genre material - thrillers, sci-fi, fantasy. It was his acclaimed "road movies" of the mid-seventies - Alice in the Cities, Wrong Move and the epic Kings of the Road that first brought him international attention. 1977's The American Friend was a post-modern thriller starring Bruno Ganz, and although the making of Hammett was a difficult experience, he won his greatest acclaim for the moving drama Paris, Texas, written by Sam Shepherd.
1987's Wings of Desire was another triumph, and if he's yet to equal those classics, subsequent work has at least been a series of fascinating failures. Until the End of the World was an ambitious sci-fi piece, Faraway, So Close sequalised Wings of Desire, while The End of Violence, Million Dollar Hotel and Land of Plenty were dark, offbeat dramas. Wenders' film Don't Come Knocking was written by and starring Sam Shepherd, while Submergence was a globetrotting romance based on a bestselling novel. His best recent work have in fact been documentaries, including the The Soul of a Man for Martin Scorsese's Blues series and the Oscar-nominated Buena Vista Social Club.