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Five Antonioni flicks at the Castro

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Jack Nicholson stars in “The Passenger,” closing the Michelangelo Antonioni festival on April 28. (Courtesy photo)

“Alienation” is arguably the most common word used to describe Michelangelo Antonioni’s films.

On Saturday at the Castro, an Antonioni festival offers new restorations of five essential movies by the director, who lived from 1912 to 2007, and whose work still startles today.

The program opens at 10:30 a.m. with “L’Avventura,” his 1960 breakthrough, causing furious debate in its day, although just two years later, Sight & Sound magazine poll declared it the second best movie ever made after “Citizen Kane.”

Its story of the search for a missing woman boldly suggested that the finding of the woman was not the point; rather, the use of landscape to suggest separation and disconnection was revolutionary. Monica Vitti, as one of the searchers, became Antonioni’s beautiful muse, whose distant gaze suggested much and revealed little.

Its follow-up, “L’Eclisse” (1961), screening at 1:30 p.m., may be the director’s masterpiece, a more intimate, more profound story of missed connections.

At 4 p.m., “Red Desert” (1964), Antonioni’s first foray into color, screens. The film is noted for its vivid and controlled palette, using either bold colors — or lack of color.

An international smash, “Blow Up” (1966), showing at 6 p.m., drew audiences in with its mystery story — a murder is accidentally, perhaps, captured in a spontaneous photograph — and with its scenes of “swinging” London. Herbie Hancock provides the movie’s hip score, and the Yardbirds, complete with Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck, perform in a club. But it’s no sell-out.

After a party at 8:30 p.m., the program closes at 10 p.m. with another masterpiece, “The Passenger” (1975), starring Jack Nicholson (in the same year he appeared in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”) as a TV reporter in Africa who decides to swap identities with another man.

Alienation was never so cool.

Michelangelo Antonioni
Presented by Cinema Italia
Where: Castro Theatre, 429 Castro St., S.F.
When: 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. April 28
Tickets: $12-$14 (each film); $25 (party at 8:30 p.m.); $70 (pass)
Contact: www.cinemaitaliasf.com

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