Director: Michelangelo Antonioni
Screenplay: Michelangelo Antonioni, Ennio Flaiano &
Producers: Piero Zuffi
Starring: Marcello Mastroianni, Jeanne Moreau, Monica Vitti
BBFC Certification: 12
Duration: 122 min
La Notte follows a couple, Giovanni and Lidia (Marcello Mastroianni and Jeanne Moreau), who were no doubt once in love, but have more recently begun to drift apart. We track them across one 24 hour period on the launch day of Giovanni’s new book as they visit a dying friend in the hospital, attend multiple parties and each encounter potentially adulterous situations along the way, all whilst dealing with their own inner conflicts regarding their marriage and their past.
Michelangelo Antonioni is not renowned for his speedy editing or elaborate plotting. Not for him are costly visual effects or swooping camerawork. Instead, he revels in brooding, slow-paced investigations into the dramatic machinations of the idly wealthy – or, as he is often described, he makes boring films about bored rich people. Now usually I’m not a fan of this kind of navel-gazing, art for art’s sake cinema, but with Antonioni I tend to make an exception. L’Avventura, made immediately prior to La Notte, and L’Eclisse, made immediately after are both great films that I enjoyed and appreciated immensely, despite their inconclusive plots and often unlikable characters. All three do share a similar subject matter of wealthy people going through non-financially motivated troubles, yet the parallel that stands clearer is the acting, and not simply because Monica Vitti appears in all three. The performances throughout are impeccable, subtly emotional and conveying utter sadness or inner turmoil with nothing but a glance. Just watch for Lidia looking forlornly out a window at a party to see how much can be shown with so little. However, La Notte isn’t without its faults. The plot is front and back loaded, with a long meandering middle section primarily involving Lidia wandering around the Milan neighbourhood where she and Giovanni first lived together. Her wanderings take her past a crying child, a broken clock, a street fight and some people launching rockets, all of which is apparently supposed to reflect the inner turmoil of Lidia’s mental state, but instead feels more like an incomprehensible mosaic of city life. Elsewhere, the story occasionally takes on farcical aspects – a sudden downpour devolves civilized partygoers into pool-jumping children that make out with statues – and the film has a habit of abandoning scenes just as they approach their full potential, as occurs during the shuffleboard-style game Giovanni has with a girl (Monica Vitti) at the party. As soon as it has become a spectacle that the other guests begin betting on, Giovanni gets up and leaves. Yes, it makes sense in terms of character and motivation, but it hurts the momentum of the film.
These are largely minor detractors overall from an otherwise impressive film. The rift between Giovanni and Lidia is keenly felt without being bluntly spoken. An early car journey sees Giovanni attempt a conversation with Lidia multiple times – turning to begin speaking, but never quite finding the words or mustering the courage. The same can be said of Lidia’s deep-rooted sense of melancholy, with her constant moping and inability to smile whilst in the presence of other people, and even at the parties she can only be found at a distance from everyone else. It’s not like her feelings aren’t well founded though, as Giovanni’s eyes are more than happy to wander across every passing skirt, and he’s happy to act upon these distractions on more than one occasion.The climax isn’t perfect, neither for me nor the main couple, but it does what all great stories do – it keeps you thinking, in this case about what love really means, and whether individual happiness is the only thing that matters for a successful relationship. So in fact the slow pace of the film could well be imperative to allow more rumination on such matters that would otherwise be lost at a faster speed.
La Notte is out now on Special Edition Blu-Ray, in the Masters of Cinema series from Eureka. The release includes a new 1080p presentation of the film in its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio with previously censored sequences restored for the first time, new and improved English subtitles, the original Italian theatrical trailer and a 56-page booklet with an essay by film-critic and scholar Brad Stevens, and the transcript of a lengthy Q&A conducted in 1961 with Antonioni upon the film's release.