Saturday Night Cinema: La Notte (1961)


Tonight’s Saturday Night Cinema is La Notte/The Night (1961) Jeanne Moreau, Marcello Mastroianni, and Monica Vitti.

It’s impossible to discern the relevance of this kind of film-making, which is doubtless why nobody (including Antonioni) practices it any more.

“One of the truly great achievements in Modern art.”

The New Yorker

In Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1961 drama, the romantic conflicts of an intellectual couple in bourgeois Milan come to life in a visually dazzling yet psychologically dislocating pageant of clashing architectural styles. The Pontanos—Giovanni (Marcello Matroianni) and Lidia (Jeanne Moreau)—are in trouble from the start. He’s an esteemed writer, she’s an educated and frustrated housewife, and a hospital visit to their terminally ill friend Tommaso (Bernhard Wicki) lays bare the couple’s fault lines. When Lidia, fleeing Giovanni, wanders through various neighborhoods, Antonioni submerges her in exotically inventive angles that transform the city into impenetrably alluring abstractions. The erotic roundelay that follows, at a wild party thrown by a philosophically inclined industrialist (Vincenzo Corbella), plays out as if following the blueprints of his villa’s layout and the scheme of its décor. Antonioni captures vast currents of shifting power—whether sexual or cultural—in chilling and resonant details. The Pontanos’ climactic confrontation on a golf course turns that wry setting into a primeval forest of their conflicting desires. In Italian.
— Richard Brody

La Notte is another of Michelangelo Antonioni’s cinematic interrupted journeys. Just as no one solved the central mystery in Antonioni’s L’Avventura, neither does anyone truly enjoy the literary party that is La Notte’s centerpiece. The party is being thrown to celebrate the publication of author Marcello Mastrioanni’s new novel. But before he even reaches the door of the house, Mastrioanni’s evening is ruined when his wife Jeanne Moreau announces suddenly she is disgusted with him–this reaction evidently triggered by an earlier visit to a dying friend. Moreau skips out on the party to wander the streets, searching for…for what? Meanwhile, Mastrioanni tries to inaugurate an empty affair with Monica Vitti, the daughter of a wealthy industrialist. The very elements that drive Mastrioanni and Moreau apart at the beginning of the film reunite them at the end. Maybe. L’Avventura and La Notte were the first two chapters in Antonioni’s “barreness and alienation” trilogy; the third, L’Eclisse, was released two years later. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

La Notte
(Michelangelo Antonioni, 1961; Eureka!, 12)

Cinematic trilogies have been all the rage since Pagnol’s in the early 30s. But possibly the most influential was the trio that made Antonioni’s beautiful, sceptical, ironic muse Monica Vitti the art house pin-up of the 1960s and created a new Italian cinema – cool, oblique, Marxist – to succeed neorealism. It began with L’Avventura, roundly booed at Cannes in 1960 by critics who thought it obscure, and concluded in 1962 with L’Eclisse, which some thought too explicit. Antonioni never made anything better than La Notte, the centrepiece of the trilogy, superbly shot in black and white by Gianni Di Venanzo, the key cinematographer of his time.

Set during a single day and night in a Milan where steel and glass skyscrapers are going up and old buildings being pulled down, it opens with a disillusioned novelist (Marcello Mastroianni) and his embittered wife (Jeanne Moreau) visiting their dying friend, a leftwing critic (Bernhard Wicki).

They then drift around town (Moreau doing the signature Antonioni walk through the city from centre to suburb) and end up at a party thrown for frivolous socialites by a multimillionaire patron of Mastroianni. An hour into the film they meet Vitti, the plutocrat’s alluring, alienated, ludic daughter, and an influential theme of modern cinema is introduced: you are what you read. Moreau’s dying mentor has just published an article on Theodor Adorno; Vitti is reading Hermann Broch’s The Sleepwalkers; Mastroianni’s latest is a slim intellectual novel. Cinema was never the same again.

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