|Marcello Mastroianni and Jeanne Moreau|
There’s an interesting point made by Brad Stevens in his essay accompanying the Masters of Cinema release of this film, he’s seen the film many times and every time he watches it he sees new details and his view of the central characters shifts. Maybe this is down to the deceptive complexity of Antonioni’s films or it could just be his studious refusal to offer definitive narrative resolutions. Either way, his films reward repeated viewing more than most…
|Marcello Mastroianni and Monica Vitti|
You can watch his films for enjoyment and draw your own conclusions about precise meanings which may well say more about yourself than the subject.
It is contemplative cinema, as I’ve said before and not unlike silent film in many ways, with sub-titled dialogue about as helpful as inter-titles in determining the motivations and feelings on display. Jeanne Moreau might, in fact, be one of the greatest silent film actresses that ever lived with her stillness belying a peerless range of expression.
La Notte begins in the bright daylight high above a sun-soaked modernist Milan – even 50 years on, this still feels futuristic. The camera moves slowly from atop a skyscraper and gradually slides down onto the city against a backdrop of atonal electronic sounds. The director is taking us down into the story.
|Marcello Mastroianni, Jeanne Moreau and Bernhard Wicki|
Strangely Giovanne confesses this moment to Lidia as they drive through traffic jams to a signing for his new book… Yet, Lidia’s reaction is not quite what you’d expect to this unnecessary revelation – is Giovanni trying to shock or just get attention. Poor Giovanni, to be so at the mercy of instinct and female forces beyond his control.
|Lidia in the city|
She is “lost” too and returns to the area where she and Giovanni used to live when she sacrificed her privileged comfort in exchange for life with a struggling artist. As she watches youths firing rockets Giovanni sleeps in their apartment…. the day’s events have exhausted him or perhaps he has nothing better to do.
|Silence in the library|
Lidia has reached the suburb of Sesto San Giovanni and calls Giovanni from a run-down café. He drives out and the couple share brief memories of this place where their relationship grew.
Back in their flat they debate whether to go to the party of Mr Gherardini (Vincenzo Corbella) a wealthy industrialist who has taken an interest: “every millionaire wants an intellectual, he chose you” says Lidia.
|Giovanni and Lidia react in different ways|
The couple arrive at Gherardini’s party which takes up the second half of the film and is a tour de force which took 35 nights of filming to complete. A series of hard night’s days...
Gherardini has Giovanni shown around – he’s too busy to do it himself – and he encounters a woman who seems to prefigure the film’s possible ending when she talks about wanting to read a story of a marriage break-up with a woman sacrificing her own happiness for her husband’s future with a younger woman. But it’s not to be that simple.
|A new game|
|Lidia looks on as Giovanni kisses Valentina|
|Slow drive in the rain...|
Valentina helps her dry off and the two share a complicit understanding of the situation emphasised by Giovanni’s appearance at the bedroom door as they discuss matters with a directness beyond him in spite of all the verbal dexterity at his disposal.
In the end Valentina is left “exhausted” by both of them as they leave… bound together still in their silence. They are far too complicated for her to deal with.
As in the earlier film we are left with ambiguity… there’s the possibility that the marriage will continue and there’s even the chance that it may be saved. Tomasso’s illness has thrown them both into crisis what will remain for them after the shock of grief has passed.
The three main leads are superb, Mastroianni rescues his Giovanni from being a hateful self-obsessed phoney by investing just enough spark and the occasional sliver of genuine feeling – why does he seek Valentina so readily? Is she the part of Lidia he wants to re-connect with?
Monica Vitti is excellent as the conflicted young intellectual, robbed of any drive or direction by the extreme wealth of her parents. She has tried to create but is happier playing childish games. She baulks at coming between the married couple and in the end you feel she has been abused by them both in their struggle to connect.
Yet this once-reassuring trait has isolated them both and she mourns the loss of the man who loved her as she loved Giovanni.
The Masters of Cinema transfer is superb and much better than the previous DVD I’d seen. There’s no commentary but an extensive booklet from the aforementioned Mr Stevens and a long interview with Antonioni from 1961.
I'd buy you all a copy but you probably already have it...