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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.
Monica Vitti in Michelangelo Antonioni's "L'Avventura"
Monica Vitti in Michelangelo Antonioni's "L'Avventura"

Instead, "La Notte" languishes in the unspoken intimacies between two people in a long-term relationship, where words are useless and only damaging, and feelings are telegraphed through gestures, sidelong glances, raised eyebrows of suspicion. Through the inward, aching performances of Mastroianni and Moreau, the history of their marriage is written on the faces of Lidia and Giovanni. 

In 1960, Antonioni already denounced speech as an effective tool of communication between people in "L'Avventura" where one character says to another, "Words are becoming less and less necessary. They create misunderstandings." 

So if you're not on board with Antonioni's studies in the "failure of communication," "La Notte" is not for you. 

Hitchcock dismissed most movies as "pictures of people talking." Through the purity of his images, Antonioni not only shared that sentiment but actively explored it. He denounced speech in "L'Avventura," a film that in essence rewrote the rules of narrative as we know them where, like his ambling characters, the story simply wanders off inconclusively into anticlimax.

There is little plot to speak of in "La Notte" but what makes this film more conventional than the rest of Antonioni's is the sense of an ending.

A year before, Fellini made "La Dolce Vita," a lush panorama of Roman decadence full of vigor and life. And in its opening scene, a helicopter carrying a statute of Jesus encircles a city vista. In "La Notte," Giovanni and Lidia stop to pause at a helicopter passing over the hospital. But it bears nothing. There is no god, no hope, only absence and nothing, because if you hope for anything in Antonioni's world, you're as good as dead.

Criterion's gorgeous, crystal-clear 4K transfer retains the grainy celluloid look of a 35mm print. But to have and to hold it on Blu-Ray is something special, encouraging you to look closely at Antonioni's composition as he intended. Supplementing the disc is a sharp essay by New Yorker critic Richard Brody.

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.