La Notte Review
Milan. Giovanni Portano (Marcello Mastroianni) is in town for a signing of his latest novel. With him is his wife Lidia (Jeanne Moreau). They visit their friend Tommaso (Bernhard Wicki) who is terminally ill in hospital. Later, Giovanni goes to his book launch while Lidia visits the part of the city she previously lived in. Later that evening, they go to a party where Giovanni meets Valentina (Monica Vitti)…
La Notte was Antonioni’s follow-up to L’avventura and is a further refinement of its themes and techniques. It’s generally thought of as the middle film of Antonioni’s early 60s black and white trilogy that he made with Monica Vitti, which he completed the following year with L’eclisse. On the other hand you could argue that, as Vitti only plays a secondary role in La Notte, that it is really a pendant to the true Vitti trilogy, which ends with the director’s first colour film, The Red Desert. Or it’s film two of a tetralogy. Your call.
If the synopsis above seems uneventful, that’s true but beside the point. In his book Story, Robert McKee gives La Notte as an example of a miniplot. This is a film which is character-led, which you could sum up as being not about “what happens” but being about the characters “while things happen”. However, Antonioni being a modernist, does not believe that his characters are fully knowable: we in the audience are expected to pick up hints and clues from their facial reactions, their body language and so on. We’re left to infer the role Tommaso (an affecting one-scene role from Bernhard Wicki) plays in Giovanni and Lidia’s marriage, as he’s clearly close to both of them. You could suggest that in some way he’s holding their marriage together. (There are no mention of any children.) The gap between husband and wife becomes more noticeable during the day and especially at the party. Judging by his behaviour to a nymphomaniac patient in hospital early on, not to mention his prolonged flirtation with Valentina at the party, Giovanni seems hardly the faithful husband. But suggesting that infidelity is the cause of the couple’s dissatisfaction would be too simplistic.
As the film progresses, Antonioni expresses recurrent themes in his trilogy (or tetralogy): how wide a gulf there can be between men and women, the alienation and ennui of modern (early 1960s) life. And few directors have such an eye for architecture – though this is more evident in L’avventura and L’eclisse. This was radically new and exciting for cineastes over forty-five years ago, at a time when arthouse cinema was more culturally central in the Western world than it is now. (It may come as a surprise to see Dino De Laurentiis’s company logo in the opening credits, but he was just as capable of putting his money behind Euro arthouse cinema as well as big-budget Hollywood.) Needless to say, Antonioni has been influential: Woody Allen parodied him, Brian De Palma riffed on Blowup in Blow Out and Michael Mann shares his sense of the expressive possibilities of buildings.
La Notte isn’t, to my mind, quite the equal of L’avventura or L’eclisse, but it’s still a key work for its director and a film that rewards watching more than once. It hasn’t been easy to see in the UK since its cinema release in 1962. (The BFI database records just one TV showing, on ITV in 1983, back when that channel did show foreign-language films, often subtitled, late at night.) The BBFC cut La Notte back in 1962 for a X certificate and there never was a video release. Eureka’s DVD marks the first time the film has been available uncut, or even at all, in this country for many years.
La Notte is released by Eureka as part of its Masters of Cinema line, as a dual-layered DVD encoded for all regions. It is transferred in a ratio of 1.66:1 and is anamorphically enhanced. As you might expect from this label, it’s a fine transfer. Considering half of the running time takes place after dark, you would expect good contrast and shadow detail, and that’s what you get. There are some minor examples of print damage, such as scratches, but on the whole this is excellent.
The mono soundtrack is all it should be, too. Unlike his compatriot Fellini, Antonioni does take care over lip-synch, and the few lapses are minor. This is particularly noticeable considering that this film includes a Frenchwoman (Moreau) and an Austrian (Wicki), both of whom appear to be delivering their lines in Italian. Subtitles are optional.
The only extra on the disc is the theatrical trailer, which is1.66:1 anamorphic and runs 3:01. As with L’avventura this attempts to sell the film on its sexual frankness – mild today, but far in advance of Hollywood at the time.
As usual with Eureka, they have provided a substantial booklet to go with their DVD. It contains an essay on the film by Brad Stevens, a Q&A with Antonioni that took place in 1961. As usual, there’s plenty to be going on with, as Antonioni’s answers are lengthy and in-depth.
Last updated: 31/05/2018 00:41:43