'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).