La Notte

Even by the standards of Milan in the early 1960s Marcello Mastroianni and Jeanne Moreau are an impossibly chic and glamorous couple. Mastroianni plays Giovanni Pontano, a celebrated writer with a new book about to be published, and Moreau plays his wealthy wife Lidia in Michaelangelo Antonioni’s La Notte, the second and most accessible of the Italian master’s trilogy on modernity and its discontents.

While La Notte is more approachable than the earlier L’Avventura and the later L’Eclisse, it was still one of the films that helped redefine European narrative cinema and set new standards for film makers to come.

The film follows Giovanni and Lidia as they start a day and the long night of the title, by first driving to visit a sick friend in hospital. But this is a private hospital in Milan, where glamorous nurses bring champagne to the patient’s private rooms. Their friend Tomasso is dying and death is always present, just as the traffic in Milan is always frightful but a stylish lifestyle is never far away.

‘Your book is the only thing that really matters,’ says Tomasso, highlighting the importance of art as the only thing that can survive death.

Lidia is upset by their literary friend’s condition and feels more than ever the emptiness and vacuity of the gathering when they go on to her husband’s well-attended book launch party. She escapes to wander through the streets of Milan and its suburbs still dressed in her high-heels and designer clothes.

In Antonioni’s La Notte the characters are searching in the dark and even the bright light of day may not always bring clarity.

It’s clear weariness, emptiness and ennui are at the centre of Giovanni and Lidia’s relationship. Later back at their ultra modern apartment they decide to go to a nightclub where an exotic female performer seems to monopolise Giovanni’s attention.

‘One must do something,’ says Lidia as she suggests they move on to a private party hosted by a millionaire.

The millionaire businessman is so wealthy his house has its own private golf course. This is the type of house party that even the characters in The Great Beauty would have trouble getting an invite to.

Giovanni socializes with the guests and appears to be in his element, while Lidia wanders around feeling out-of-place and dislocated in a setting where she knows virtually no one.

Giovanni wanders off and eventually meets Valentina, played by Monica Vitti, unaware that she’s the host’s lively and attractive daughter. The host Gherardini later meets privately with Giovanni and offers him an executive position with his company, to write the firm’s history – a lucrative way for a writer to make use of his creative talent.

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There are no easy decisions, no hard conclusions in La Notte. Dancing in the rain makes Lidia lose her inhibitions and both Giovanni and Lidia flirt with infidelity as the night envelops them.

‘When we’re young we’re so stupid, we can’t imagine things coming to an end,’ says Lidia both of the death of their friend Tommaso and the death of their relationship.

‘I feel like dying because I no longer love you,’ she goes on to say as in the cold morning light they walk on the private golf course and confront their emotions.

Couples often stay together even when they’ve wandered far apart emotionally. They share the same cinema frame but are not always playing the same scene.

Human beings in relationships are often in the dark about their own thoughts, feelings and emotions. If they can’t remember their own love letters, their own first homes, how can they be expected to really know, never mind love, each other?

In Antonioni’s La Notte the characters are searching in the dark and even the bright light of day may not always bring clarity.


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