Film is Stranger than Fiction: From Cortázar's 'Las Babas Del Diablo' to Antonioni's Blow-Up

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Editor: Joseph Palmisano
Date: 2005
From: Short Story Criticism(Vol. 76)
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 4,686 words

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[(essay date 1995) In the following essay, Bittini compares "Las babas del Diablo," which was published in English as "Blow-Up," to the film adaptation of the story.]

In the opening credits of Blow-Up, the Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni acknowledges that his film is based on "Las babas del diablo," a short story by the Argentinian Julio Cortázar. In my paper, I will compare aspects of both the story and the film, focusing on Blow-Up's postmodern agenda. The several changes that Antonioni makes in the transition from Cortázar's short story to his film play a fundamental role. The changes that I will discuss are the transformation of the protagonist's profession, the shift of the story's setting from Paris to London, and finally the shift in the nature of the action spied by the protagonist in each work. These changes, I will argue, offer significant insights into Antonioni's recreating of Cortázar's story.

In Cortázar's "Las babas del diablo" (published in 1959), Michel Roberto is a translator and an amateur photographer living in Paris. One day he photographs a young boy and an older blond woman in the square on an island in the Seine. After the picture is taken, the boy flees. Michel believes that the woman was trying to seduce the boy. But when the woman asks for the film, an old man, who had been sitting in a car, joins them. Later, studying the picture, Michel sees (or imagines he sees) that the woman was really procuring the youth for the man in the car.

In Antonioni's Blow-Up (shot in 1966) Thomas, played by David Hemmings, is a professional photographer who is trying to conclude a book of photographs about London. One day, while wandering in a park, he sees a young woman embracing a middle-aged man. Thomas starts taking photographs. But the young woman, played by Vanessa Redgrave, sees him and asks for the film. Thomas refuses to give it to her and returns to his studio. The young woman finds Thomas's studio, but the photographer fools her by giving her another film. After a while the young woman leaves and Thomas develops the shots. When he makes enlargements of some of the prints, he discovers what looks like a body. Thomas returns to the park and sees (or imagines he sees) a body. Returning to his studio, Thomas finds out that the blow-ups have been stolen and that the only one left is a very confused print. Finally Thomas goes back to the park, but he is not able to find the body.

The first change that is worth analyzing is Antonioni's shift of locale from Paris to London. In 1966, the year in which Blow-Up was shot, Antonioni went to London to visit Monica Vitti who had been the star in his last four movies: L'avventura (1960), La notte (1961), L'eclisse (1962), and Deserto rosso (1964). There Antonioni decided to shoot his next movie in English and in London. Antonioni's London in Blow-Up is not an undetermined city, it...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420061697