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La Notte (1961)

August 28th, 2007 · No Comments

After exploring the art of remakes, I’m embarking on a quest for some bona fide art cinema. Here’s the last of five articles on the films of Michelangelo Antonioni (1912-2007). I wrote this while sipping coffee product I can neither spell nor pronounce.

La Notte poster.jpg

By Joe Valdez

In Milan, famed novelist Giovanni (Marcello Mastroianni) and his pampered wife of ten years Lidia (Jeanne Moreau) visit a mutual friend (Bernhard Wicki), who lies terminally ill in a hospital. Giovanni gives off an impression that he cares more about what his friend thinks of his new book than he does his health. While Lidia waits for him outside, Giovanni is lured into the room of a nymphomaniac (Maria Pia Luzi) not quite right in the head.

Giovanni confesses the incident to Lidia, but fails to rouse her jealousy. Any love she felt for her husband has turned to indifference. She longs to escape. While Giovanni attends his book release party, Lidia strolls through the city by herself, returning to the neighborhood where they once lived, when they were poor but still loved each other. She watches young men in a field launch rockets into the sky.

Unable to take the boredom any longer, Lidia suggests to her husband that they go out. They make their way to a party being thrown by a wealthy industrialist in honor of his racehorse. Lidia wanders off again, while Giovanni works the crowd. He obsessively pursues the gorgeous 18-year-old daughter of their host, Valentina (Monica Vitti). Lidia leaves the party with a male guest, but instead of betraying her husband, returns to the party to confront him.

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Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni, from a screenplay co-authored with Ennio Flaiano & Tonino Guerra, La Notte was the filmmaker’s follow-up to the picture widely considered his masterpiece, L’Avventura. It’s the second of what some consider a loosely connected trilogy – concluding with L’Eclisse – exploring a woman’s alienation and a search for meaning in the modern world.

Expressing the dissolution of a marriage, La Notte may not be exciting. Visually, it has few peers in movies. The pacing takes effort to adjust to, but watching this again, the flow of one remarkable sequence of images to the next captivated me. Pedestrians watching rockets fly into the sky. Mastroianni and Monica Vitti playing shuffleboard with her compact. A rainstorm exhilarating the party guests. These were moments of sheer beauty.

The script and casting are both improvements over Antonioni’s previous work. Ennio Flaiano co-wrote La dolce vita, and the script for La Notte has wit (“I have plenty of vices, but I hardly practice them,” says Vitti) and narrative cohesion (the film clocks in at 115 minutes). Marcello Mastroianni and Jeanne Moreau were the reigning king and queen of European film at the time, and watching them work with Vitti is a real pleasure.

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“This film so well captures the realities of why and how so many marriages fail- not for infidelities, but for no real connection to begin with,” writes Dan Schneider at Unspoken Cinema.

Marilyn Ferdinand at Ferdy on Films, etc. writes, “At a distance of 40 years, the film looks like an arthouse cliché … something that dates the film in a way that La dolce vita has not.”

“You’ve exhausted me, the pair of you.” View Vitti, Moreau and Mastroianni’s scene as the party winds itself down.

Tags: 24 hour time frame · Bathtub scene

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