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Antonioni's Stark Portrait of Haute-Bourgeois Boredom and Betrayal 'La Notte' Lives Again on Criterion Blu-Ray

Photo of Ryan Lattanzio By Ryan Lattanzio | TOH! October 31, 2013 at 2:56PM

Could a film like "La Notte" ever exist today? What would it look like? Released in 1961, Michelangelo Antonioni's visually sleek modernist masterpiece features two international stars of considerable pedigree -- Marcello Mastroianni and Jeanne Moreau -- who talk, and also don't talk, about the undetectable meanings of life and love.
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'La Notte'
'La Notte'

Could a film like "La Notte" ever exist today? What would it look like?

Released in 1961, Michelangelo Antonioni's visually sleek modernist masterpiece features two international stars of considerable pedigree -- Marcello Mastroianni and Jeanne Moreau -- who talk, and also don't talk, about the undetectable meanings of life and love.

This side of "La Notte," the closest a film comes to such a surgically precise picture of marital breakdown is "Eyes Wide Shut" (1999) by Stanley Kubrick, who loved "La Notte." And like "Eyes Wide Shut," "LA Notte" is a dreamy nighttime odyssey that drives apart a husband and wife as they hurtle toward something awful and inevitable, only to bring them together again in a closing moment of possible reconciliation. But when Giovanni (Mastroianni) and Lidia (Moreau) embrace like wild dogs at the end of "La Notte," there may be reconciliation, but no hope.

While Giovanni, a novelist, is enjoying the success of his new book, his wife Lidia begins to confront the fact that he probably doesn't love her anymore and that their marriage is over, just not over. As Giovanni rubs elbows with European intellectuals and ravages their lavish praise, Lidia drifts into numb despair, wandering through the streets of Milan and into Antonioni's bourgeois wasteland.

In her 1963 essay "The Sick-Soul-of-Europe Parties," a diatribe against European art house cinema, Pauline Kael understood "La Notte"'s introversion as emptiness. "La Notte is supposed to be a study in the failure of communication, but what new perceptions of this problem do we get by watching people on the screen who can't communicate if we are never given any insight into what they would have to say if they could talk to each other?"

Point taken, Pauline. Lydia and Giovanni don't fully and honestly communicate with each other until the film's very last scene, and even then it occurs through the recitation of a letter Giovanni does not remember writing. There is a glass plate between them (often literally). 

This article is related to: Reviews, DVD / Blu-Ray, Blu-ray, La Notte, Criterion Collection, Michelangelo Antonioni


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.