La Notte

La Notte

Format: DVD

Release date: 24 March 2008

Distributor: Eureka Video

Director: Michelangelo Antonioni

Screenplay: Michelangelo Antonioni, Ennio Flaiano, Tonino Guerra

Cast: Marcello Mastrioianni, Jeanne Moreau, Monica Vitti

Italy/France 1961

122 mins

For the first 45 minutes La Notte appears to be a beautiful but cold study of sophisticated ennui. At any rate this is a good excuse to photograph Jeanne Moreau (Lidia) and Marcello Mastroianni (Giovanni) against the angular modern cityscapes of Milan, or more austerely still against bright blank backgrounds. If the aim of cinematography were to produce a series of beautiful images, then it could hardly be done better than this. Any still from these scenes would glow on the wall of the Photographers’ Gallery. But it is supposed to be a narrative art as well. To the extent that La Notte is a dramatic rather than a photographic work, its drama is one of existentialist angst, with Antonioni on the psychological trail of two individuals who find themselves alienated from their lives and each other in a world which needs them to give it meaning. The mood is not improved by a distinct sense of menace, particularly in the scenes where Moreau wanders the city alone, in search of the lost soul of her marriage.

But as the night approaches, the film shifts – geographically, visually, and dramatically. We move to a luxurious mansion outside the city, from low-key scenes of individuals and couples, restrained in movement and sparing in words, to the flux of a party. And soon the malaise of the protagonists is grounded, as the travails of their relationship come to the surface. Gianni Di Venanzo’s precise, swooping photography of the ensemble scenes through which Mastroianni wanders immediately calls to mind their famous collaboration on 8킽. But this is a more sombre counterpart, in which Antonioni offers affectless beauty and slow, steady development instead of Fellini’s chaotic charm and irony. And Lidia perhaps more than Giovanni is the emotional fulcrum of La Notte. She faces the deaths of two relationships: with her husband and with her terminally ill admirer, the one who is and the one who might have been.

So if you’re looking for a date movie, approach with caution. It’s not (quite) as depressing as I make it sound, though, and there are plenty of delights, not just photographic. Admirers of Monica Vitti will find her particularly good value as the sophisticated daughter of Giovanni’s would-be patron. The film is vividly evocative of affluent Italy just before the 1960s wave of Anglophone popular culture swept away the soignée elegance of the European elite for something looser and brasher. And Antonioni’s skill in shaping a visual expression of the emotional drama of a single day is all the more impressive for being so stealthy.

Peter Momtchiloff

One thought on “La Notte”

  1. ‘La Notte’ is part of the tetralogy on the ‘couple’, along with ‘L’Avventura’ (1959-1960), ‘L’Eclisse’ (1962) and ‘Deserto Rosso’ (1964), this film confirms the self-reflexive genius of Michelangelo Antonioni. The elgance of his screen-writing is characterized by a (unconventional for the time) liberated look on the bourgeois, seen in ‘La Notte’, without absolvent or condemning exorcisms, as the winning class that is institutionalizing its own disputable “morality”. Antonioni stands out for his total secularism of an anti-ideological point of view – which does not allow neither emotional removals nor illusions, let alone consolations – he is, amongst his peers, the more aesthetically aware, the ideologically freer and the more autonomous in cultural terms.
    In ‘La Notte’, love, is this illusion of the unlimited that confirms the relative; loneliness belongs to those who don’t have and would like to have or to those who had and does not have anymore. The couple, is, on the one hand, the only place where the reality and the illusion of the feelings are concretely commensurate, on the other hand, an irreversible call for self-destruction and loss. The woman, who is “better than the man” because in the emotional crisis is the one more authentic, more sincere and because of it, more disposable for supportive mercy, the only alternative solution to the suffered acceptance of one’s own ontological loneliness.
    Antonioni’s finest images are visual poetry evoking diseases that were still to become common features in the post-modern atomized couple.

    Celluloid Liberation Front

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