La Notte (1961)

This review contains SPOILERS!
With Michelangelo Antonioni, it's hard to feel anything but apathetic. I may masquerade as a snob, but when it comes to this director, I'm usually the one who asks the simple questions: why is this good? With "La Notte" which is a meandering and almost plotless work, Antonioni constructs one of his best works with the portrayal of love and marriage slowly falling apart.
Writer Giovanni (Marcello Mastroianni) is visiting a sick friend in the hospital with his wife, Lidia (Jeanne Moreau). The man doesn't seem to have that much time left and is spending his last few hours doing simple things like reading a book or sipping champagne.
The scene's poignancy is lost when Giovanni gets distracted by what we can only assume to be a nymphomaniac in the hospital and suddenly gets locked in her room, kissing and undressing her. Of course, the romantic mood is further killed (aside from the fact that his wife is waiting outside) by the nurses that burst into the room and start smacking the girl.
Now you have an odd taste of Antonioni.
The movie continues in droll form, mostly with Lidia who walks around outside, lost in thought. She is witness to a baby with no parents, a clock that has stopped, and rust that is peeling off a door. Trying to break up a fight, she is followed for a little bit by a strange man and then she stops and watches some local boys shoot rockets off.
Giovanni in this time has gone home and taken a nap...which is something that I could really relate with.
Up to this point, there seems to be no point.
But give the movie time, it will make sense in a little bit.
Deciding to spend the night out, the couple goes to a bar where two dancers perform a mesmerizing and sexy dance. It brings our thoughts to "La Dolce Vita". While out, the two don't seem terribly comfortable together, but functional at worst.
They move their activities over to a party where the movie stays until the final frame. It's here that everything starts to come unravelled. Here is where Antonioni shows that he is not a romantic, and also one of the most romantic.
Annoying, beautiful, haunting—"La Notte" taps into the idea of lost love and love in general. We watch as Giovanni and Lidia go about the party in two different ways. She suggests that he try to entertain a young, pretty girl and he does...perhaps too well. She goes off with a writer in the pouring rain.
What's the difference?
Perhaps she needs closure on the marriage and he doesn't, because by this time it's inevitable that the two of them will no continue together. He doesn't need that. He is much more dependent on her as well.
Yet even as dry as this sounds—for it is a relational drama at its core—"La Notte" is splendidly candid in its last few scenes, which make up for the drag of the first few. Richly shot in black and white with a sensual tone, Antonioni here appears very skeptical and also very hopeful. For all its depressive commentary, it's not a downer of a movie.
The ending makes you feel a little queasy, but sometimes when love goes sour, it makes you sick.
"La Notte" is a far cry from perfect, but it is a milestone in Antonioni's career and a movie that's well worth the time it takes to watch it.

Score: ★★★

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