Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1961 film La notte is about an established author, Giovanni, and his wife Lidia in post war Milan. La notte has been a highly respected motion picture worldwide, receiving numerous awards including the Berlin International Film Festival “Golden Berlin Bear” award for best film and the highly respected David di Donatello award (similar to America’s Academy awards), given to Antonioni for best director.
La notte introduces its audience to Giovanni and Lidia as they visit an ailing friend in the hospital before making an appearance at Giovanni’s book signing party. This initial scene reveals the movie’s set-up including moments discomfort, separation, and unusual silence. Throughout the film, there are many occurrences where words or conversation would seem appropriate, and at times crucial. However, Antonioni includes these moments to strengthen the notion of despondency between the main characters. Lidia’s abrupt solo exit of the hospital room and the following scene of her alone, crying, and in pain due to Tommaso’s state of health are evidence of her own life, revealing the pain and isolation within her marriage.
Many times throughout the film deliberate silence and gazes are exploited to dramatize the visual happenings, leaving the audience employed to insert their own dialogue and emotion. Giovanni and the deranged patient, the fight Lidia witnesses, her walk through the city, and the awkward meeting of Valentina with Giovanni and Lidia with the male party guest, are times where words are replaced with gazes, stares, and contemplation. At times, silence is disturbed with natural noises of planes, sirens, a baby crying, and rockets.
This void the director depicts in the film is exemplified by Giovanni’s wife Lidia. She made a vow to love her husband but finds it increasingly difficult to respect him and his profession as his attention is constantly elsewhere. The depressing emptiness the audience feels, is also felt by Lidia. She leaves the book signing party unnoticed and wanders the city in hopes of some excitement or meaning. As she drifts through the city she comes across a clock, broken with motionless hands, a symbol of her stagnant marriage and the constant void she is longing to change, but may be too late.
The film’s climax occurs at Gherardini’s evening party. It seems as though Giovanni senses his wife’s distance. He flirts with the host’s daughter Valentina. She insists that he should reunite with his wife. Giovanni dismisses this claim by saying Lidia sent him to her. Lidia, from afar, sees them together but decides not to stop them as she knows her relationship with Giovanni is coming to an end. With lost hope Lidia tries to make the most of her evening. One of few scenes where Lidia smiles and is seen enjoying herself is when she receives attention from a male party guest and is approached, inviting her to dance. Later Valentina confronts Lidia about her actions that evening with Giovanni, yet Lidia interrupts, making a confession of her own to Valentina. Her marriage is not what it once was.
The last few moments unravels the overwhelming feeling throughout the film. Lidia reveals her nightclub thought to Giovanni that remained a mystery until this point. Throughout the whole film, Giovanni and Lidia lacked affection towards one another; their interactions usually consist of short conversations with abrupt subject changes, avoiding argument and confrontation. Lidia expresses that the love she once felt has been exhausted. She made a choice to love Giovanni over Tommaso, but her love has extinguished.
The ending scene of Lidia and Giovanni together brings about a mix of emotions. The live band on Gherardini’s lawn sets the melancholy mood. When Lidia reads the love letter she pulls from her purse to Giovanni, he feels uncomfortable and queries who wrote such words of affection and devotion to Lidia. After he questions the letter’s author, Lidia turns to him in astonishment. “You did” she replies to Giovanni. His failure to remember his own words reassured Lidia that his professed love did not exist.
La notte may have left some empty, cold, angry, or sympathetic. The lack of words in the film is made up in emotion we feel for the characters. Director Antonioni embraces the fact that we are what we make of ourselves. For Giovanni his addiction wasn’t from “tasting the wine and becoming an alcoholic”(as he talks to Signora Resy), but can be metaphorically applied to his intellectual stature, success, and attention that blinded him from the love he had for Lidia.
Aside from the interesting voyage we took following the course of Lidia and Giovanni, I particularly found Antonioni’s cinematography visually pleasing as artist. Antonioni marvels his audience with his artistic expression in his cinematic creations. The director’s first name may be coincidental to one of Italy’s most celebrated painters and sculptors of the fifteenth and sixteenth century, but Antonioni doesn’t disappoint in his modern artistic expression of art using actors and motion picture as paint for his canvas. Antonioni may give the audience of La notte an additional reason to watch just for his stunning cinematography capturing Italy’s post war beauty. La notte is sprinkled with busy cityscapes, serene landscapes, vivid reflections, natural use of light, and extreme tonal contrasts to add an additional element of uniqueness. Antonioni’s attention to artistic beauty is just one of many aspects the audience of La notte will witness throughout the movie.
Here are a few sites that offer great additional information on the film and the director Michelangelo Antonioni:
(Themes in the film La notte)
(Reviews on the film)
(Biography of Antonioni)
(Overview of Antonioni and his films)