There are a few directors that are considered great that I cannot get on board with. Michelangelo Antonioni is one of them. When I was younger, I watched Blow-Up and hated it so completely that it took me years before I was able to watch another one of his movies. Blow-Up was probably not the best introduction I could have to a director known for his ennui. Blow-Up is him at his most ennuiness (at least that is what experts say). Once I had forgiven Antonioni for Blow-Up (it was a long and arduous journey, but someone had to do it), I watched L’Avventura and had the exact same reaction. Although it was beautifully shot and Monica Vitti was great to behold, I just couldn’t get past the non-explanation of these yuppie’s ennui. Antonioni puts the audience at an emotional distance that is hard for me to overcome. This should then be no surprise that after a couple more years of recovery from L’Avventura, I had the same reaction to his next movie in his isolation trilogy, La Notte.
I seriously don’t even know why I try with this man. Maybe it is the completist inside me or the guilt that I have about never being the most thorough or best film critic out there. But somehow it all circles back to Antonioni eventually. This movie is barely a movie. Yes there are people in it, but are they really characters? Yes there is gorgeous cinematography (It was shot by Gianni di Venanzo. He also shot a ton of Italian movies in the mid-fifties to late sixties, most notably 8 1/2.) but the images are empty and meaningless. There is no real plot or motivations. There is only theme. The theme of complacency. Jeanne Moreau and Marcello Mastroianni play a married couple stuck in a long-term relationship together. Mastroianni is a successful novelist and Moreau is his arm candy. We wander through a day they have together, starting at a hospital. They visit a dying a friend which puts a funk on the rest of the proceedings. Moreau is so rocked by this visit that she escapes into the wilds of an Italian city jungle, only to return in time for her husband’s novel release party. This is followed up by some time in a night club (Where a cabaret girl, very impressively, holds a glass full of champagne steady as she contorts her body.) and then a posh party at a mansion. Here Mastroianni and Moreau split up and wander the party like they have wandered the rest of the movie just sort of reacting passively to events playing around them. Mastroianni meets Monica Vitti and falls in lust with her after he sees her reading his book. They get caught macking it. Will this rock his marriage or will….zzzzz I am falling asleep just describing the plot. Imagine what happened while I was watching it. (I had to start it three times before I completed one complete viewing of the movie)
The long haul of a marriage, the complacency you have when you establish a routine with a companion and the need to break from that routine can all be riveting subject material for a film. It is just too bad that Antonioni was able to take interesting themes, great actors, and gorgeous visuals and turn it into a big stinking turd. I reviled this movie. I hated it so much that I think I am done trying to convince myself that Antonioni is for me. He just isn’t, I will leave him to the smarter film buffs to care for his legacy and talk about his impact on film. I am not capable of it.