Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Michelangelo Antonioni's La Notte

At first I thought La notte was so boring. There was nothing going on, both characters seemed lifeless. Their world was depressing, with their best friend on his deathbed. It was hard to see the importance of the story and why it was being told. But, as the story progressed the passiveness of the beginning sets up the mood of the entire story. It’s difficult when a story doesn’t necessarily pull its viewer in within the first 10 minutes, but La Notte was set up this way for a reason. The reason was to get the characters on their journey, to realize this life is not working for them.

The shots at the beginning credits slowly descend the viewer into the world of Lidia and Giovanni. The shots move with ease down a modern-skyscraper building side. Images of the surrounding city are reflected on the building’s glass. Before the characters are shown, the pace and location of the film is established. There also seems to be an analogy relating the beginning to the whole relationship between Giovanni and Lidia. Like the beginning shots, their relationship will slowly go down and this story will reveal the end, the last stop of the descent.

From the first scene with Lidia and Giovanni it’s hard to tell much about their relationship. They come to visit a mutual friend, Tommaso, but each has their own quirk. Lidia lets Tommaso hold and kiss her hand for more then the appropriate amount of time. Giovanni allows himself to be seduced by the nymphomaniac when waiting for the elevator. It’s almost like a political relationship, they are together just so other people can see them together. There is nothing between them, no feeling, no happiness, and no love. The viewer is shown this right off the bat, but it takes Lidia the majority of the film to finally realize that the love is lost.

Throughout the story Lidia and Giovanni experience connections and disconnections. The connections and disconnections are more in the visual sense. Each follows their own path, but the two meet up to reconcile here and there. This series of separations starts off with the pair leaving the hospital at different times. They continue to do this throughout the film. They come together for moments, while not truly connecting, and then continue on their separate ways. It’s like visualizing a DNA strand, it crosses paths, but only for a moment, and each side is completely different.

Lidia and Giovanni just flow through their side of the strand. There is only one point where Lidia wants to break free from the flow, and it happens when everyone is jumping in the pool. Lidia is about to jump in but is stopped in her steps. I think it was Lidia’s one chance to break free from the mundane life she has been living. Giovanni also wants to leave his mundane life. He tries to seduce Valentina throughout the party. Like Lidia, Giovanni is unable to escape.

Ideas of a modern society are conveyed in many ways throughout the film. The first half of the movie takes place in modern Italy. Every shot through a window shows large buildings of the city. Giovanni claims that they don’t get out much except to drive around. The sounds of helicopters, jets, and cars can be heard quite vividly too. When Lidia goes on her walk, she leaves the modern parts of town, to come upon a ravaged, aging world. The buildings are crumbling, a child is left in terror, and guys fight for no apparent reason. It’s as if the modern is taking over, and anything left behind will be forgotten. Giovanni comes and takes Lidia away, which leads the story into the second half.

For many, the second half shows the darkness, or the night, of a certain life. Numerous problematic citations overlap throughout La Notte. Tommaso’s life comes to an end, Lidia and Giovanni’s relationship comes to and end, the old world of Italy is ending, Giovanni believes his ability to write is coming to and end, and Mr. Gherardini is worried that his relationship with his workers is coming to an end. All these endings happen within the darkness of Mr. Gherardini’s modern home. Though Lidia and Giovanni’s end is at the heart of the story, Antonioni shows the night slowly falling on so many, and with a new day, change must come.

Syd Field-Michelangelo Antonioni & La Notte

Lawrence Russell

Senses of Cinema-James Brown

Gene Siskel Film Center


JamieF said...

I can very much relate to the polarizing effect this film seems to have with those who view it, and I find myself torn. I found it odd in my own personal experience that, I very much enjoyed Antonioni's film "L'Avventura", however when I viewed "L'Eclisse", my reaction was quite different, as I rather disliked the story and did not connect to the characters on any level.

This film falls somewhere in between for me. While it was very slow to burn, and I found myself having a hard time staying connected to the film for at least the first 15 minutes, the story did pick up. I found many of the images to be beautiful and very well composed, and I especially enjoyed Monica Vitti's character Valentina, who possesses a stunning screen presence.

It is interesting to view this film as very like life; watching the slow disintegration of this relationship, feeling as if it is almost in real-time. I can appreciate the statement this makes, while at the same time having a hard time believing I was able to stay conscious to absorb all of it.

But David's comments definitely shed new light on things that I may otherwise have discarded, and have lent me a new appreciation for the film. I especially liked the reference to Lidia and Giovanni's relationship as though it were as fragile as DNA:

"They come together for moments, while not truly connecting, and then continue on their separate ways. It’s like visualizing a DNA strand, it crosses paths, but only for a moment, and each side is completely different."

I'm still trying to assimilate the film in my mind, and I may have to view it once again to appreciate subtleties I may have missed the first go around.

Eric said...

It took me a couple views to really get what the film was trying to get across. I have seen L'Avventura as well and it was interesting how the films are very similar, with those long, silent shots of characters searching for something/someone. What at first one thinks is boring in these films can become something very fascinating when you take the time to pause it and really think about it, which this film helped me to do a lot.

Now I have to seek out "L'Eclisse" so I can compare it to the aforementioned films.

IanRaymond said...

I was completely disillusioned by this film upon the first viewing. In fact, around the point when it began to rain and people were jumping into the pool, I had to shut it off and focus on something else. I was not in the mood to be go through the adventure, or lack there of with these characters.

Upon my second viewing, I really sat down and focused in on this world Antonioni created. Upon finishing the film I do have to say that while it is not the best film I have seen within even the past week, I can respect what Antonioni was trying to convey.

In this world of nothingness and severe disconnection there is not much action at all. In the first half an hour we have one character wandering aimlessly through Milan, and another character takes a nap! There certainly not a lot of movies were a character takes a nap – In Hollywood that would be a sure fire way to have your picture cancelled even before it is put into production.

The editing in this film is what makes it so difficult to watch. The shots hold on for way to long, and start way before they should. If this movie was edited tightly, this film would last about 45 minutes – but then of course it wouldn’t make sense.

The cinematography however, was spectacular. The high angle shots and framing while Lidia is walking through Milan gives a great sense of depth to the city and conveys the emptiness inside her perfectly. However some shots are just too thematic. For example the montage of her when she tries to console a child, then sees a clock, and then peels a wall apart Рtoday it would be considered extremely clich̩ for an art movie to be so vague with it symbols.

Maybe it is because I am so young and not yet jaded to understand how the world works to appreciate the disillusionment Antonioni brings to the silver screen. Or maybe I’m just used to classical cinema, but whatever it is, La notte didn’t puch any buttons for me.

H Jennings said...

It does seem that many people either hated the pace of the film or loved it. Actually it seemed more people did not like the pace of the film but I have to say I thought that it was great. By making the film so slow and quiet we are forced to experience life for awhile the way our characters are experiencing their lives. They seem unwilling to stir themselves out of the quiet slow lives they are leading despite the fact that neither character is enjoying themselves. Lydia is afraid to take advantage of the opportunities to push her life forward. We see this in the scene where she has the opportunity to have an affair and chickens out at the last minute. Giovanni cannot move forward because he can't seem to figure out who he is or what he wants. He chases women but can't separate himself from Lydia despite her telling him that he can and should go. Both characters are moving slowly to a conclusion in the film which much like life cannot be given a clear assessment until well after everything is over.