La Notte 1961
Went to the Film Forum yesterday to see La Notte. I had a free ticket, which was nice, and for two hours I was immersed in Antonioni's world of 1960's angst, alienation, loneliness and despair. Set in a gleaming black and white Milan where an attractive couple played by Marcello Mastroianni and Jeanne Moreau reside. He’s an author of some renown; she is his wife who doesn’t seem to do much. They are bored not only with each other but with life in general and for one day and night we follow them through their ordinary day and not so ordinary night. The film opens with them visiting a dying friend in the hospital where Marcello is suddenly set upon by a sex starved patient, and Jeanne is so distraught (not with this occurrence because she knows nothing about it) but with her friends illness that she leaves the hospital and takes a long walk through the city which is one of the great set pieces of the film, and in cinema. Architecture, textures and spaces have always played an important part in Antonioni’s films and here it looms and pushes us into seeing film in a new way. It’s an abstract moving work, (not emotionally) and is like a spread in a lavish fashion magazine, check out the early 60’s clothes that Moreau and Monica Vitti wear and you will understand what I mean. There’s a lot of what’s it all about Marcello? going on here, and at times you might want to reach into the film and give Marcello and Jeanne a good slap or two to their stunning spoiled faces. They have it all, money, looks, prestige but this is an Antonioni film so more is not enough. They moan and roam and when night falls they go out on the town to a nearly empty La Dolce Vita like nightclub where a black couple scantily dressed do a vivid but ludicrous acrobatic dance routine that goes on far too long. Finally they move on to an industrialist’s lavish overblown party at his modern sprawling estate on the outskirts of Milan and the rest of the movie languishes here from dark to dawn where people meet, pull apart and move on. I should point out that the look of this long sequence is beautiful both in the cinematography by the great Gianni Di Venanzo and the look of both Moreau and the fantastic Monica Vitti, Antonioni’s muse here in all black including her usually light hair. Both women and some of the men are moved about like figurines by the director, and he fills the screen with glimpses of their painful movements and meetings through windows, reflections, pouring rain, darkness and pieces of white. It’s all really very gorgeous if somewhat inert and stiff. Antonioni has said that his films are like Rothko paintings, and indeed the director did make paintings, abstract of course along with his films. So it is not crazy to look at this film like a painting, it has textures, tones and shades and like good painting it also pulls us in, and then leaves us to our own devices on what it all means and how to find a way out.