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La Notte(1961) by Michelangelo Antonioni

“The final sequence of Antonioni’s La Notte is perhaps the only episode in the whole history of cinema in which a love scene became a necessity and took on the semblance of a spiritual act. It’s a unique sequence in which physical closeness has great significance. The characters have exhausted their feelings for each other but are still very close to each other. As a friend of mine said once, more than five years with my husband is like incest. These characters have no exit from their closeness. We see them desperately trying to save each other, as if they were dying.” (Andrei Tarkovsky: Interviews, p. 78)

Part of the famous “alienation trilogy” of Italian auteur Michelangelo Antonioni, La Notte(The Night) is a scathing examination of post-war Capitalism and the advent of modernity in Italy. Set in Milan, the film looks at a successful writer played by Marcello Mastroianni( one of the greatest Italian actors ever), who is successful but spiritually sterile and his wife played by Jeanne Moreau( the great French actress), as the two confront the gradual death of their marriage. The great Monica Viti, an Antonioni regular and his partner, is Marcello’s object of desire. Marcello realises how desensitised and trivial he has become in his pursuit of success over literary merit. Moreau draws his attention to how much he has changed and what he was to what he has become, especially in comparison with his less successful friend who perhaps did not make the compromises that Marcello has made but is dying of cancer today. Moreau feels more connected and affected by the friend’s life and death than Marcello. It is the sickness of Eros, that Antonioni draws our attention to. Antonioni, in this inward looking film questions the position of an artist in a fast growing consumerist world dictated by Capitalism. He is probably examining his own position vis a vis the world he lives in.

The modernist mise-en-scene of the film particularly focusses on the geometrical modern architecture (a link is connected). Antonioni sets the tone for the film with the brilliant elevator shot in the credits. As a follow up one can also look at the breath-taking last sequence of L’ Eclisse (1962), another “alienation trilogy masterpiece.

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Sharad Raj is a Mumbai based independent filmmaker, a Senior Faculty at Whistling Woods International and the Editor of Just cinema.

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