Beyond the Clouds hardly seems the work of an 83-year-old man who has suffered a debilitating stroke, though it does come off as the film of an older man: contemplative, rueful, even playful. With the help of his wife (who communicated to the crew and actors verbally for her speech-impaired husband) and colleague Wim Wenders (who is credited with the prologue, epilogue, and entr'actes), Michelangelo Antonioni offers four stories about chance encounters that may lead to love. As in his best films, Antonioni masterfully portrays the yearning for meaning beyond simple physical coupling, and by dealing four variations on the theme, he's able to sustain interest without seeming repetitive. The most effective of the four stories are the opening and closing episodes, both involving slow dances of seduction with similar outcomes, but for very different reasons. (In the closing story, Irène Jacob's reply to Vincent Perez's "Can I see you tomorrow?" has to be one of the great blow-off lines in screen history.) John Malkovich, who plays a stand-in for Antonioni in the film's framing scenes, and Sophie Marceau are an intriguing couple in the second episode, but their encounter is too sketchy to register. Peter Weller and Fanny Ardant can't seem to bring any real conviction to their tired roles of the disaffected bourgeois couple, though Ardant and Jean Reno do get in a wonderful exchange at the end of the story. Approaching her, he says, "There's a cure for everything." Entering his embrace, she replies, "That's what disturbs me." The film is packed with Antonioni's visual signatures, particularly in his use of doors and windows as frames within the frame of the screen. And it does feature a lovely scene between Marcello Mastroianni and Jeanne Moreau, who come off much more animated than they were over 30 years before in Antonioni's La Notte. Finally, in a scene presumably directed by Wenders but clearly under the influence of Antonioni, the film closes with a crane shot up the side of a hotel with peeks into four rooms, a shot that, as one critic noted, actually recalls Ernst Lubitsch. Not two directors you'd find mentioned in the same sentence, but there are definitely moments in this film where Antonioni is almost as playful as his predecessor, without losing his own famous touch.
by Tom Wiener review