LA NOTTE and Wow What A Film

I put off watching La Notte (1961) for a while. I watched L’Avventura (1960) last year and, while I liked it, I wasn’t absolutely crazy about it. It was just a very cold film and to think that Michaelangelo Antonioni did a whole “trilogy” of similar cold movies, I think I just wasn’t in the mood for it. But then I saw La Notte on blu-ray at the library and thought “welp, gotta watch it eventually. Also, Marcello is in it.” I haven’t seen a bad Marcello Mastroianni film, so this one couldn’t be bad. Thank god, it wasn’t. In fact, this may be a darn near perfect film.

Say whaaaa? “But, ____,” you say, “you’ve definitely never said that before, especially on this blog, what gives?” Oh, I’ll tell you what gives. What I liked a lot about La Notte that L’Avventura was missing was how fun it was. (Granted, L’Avventura deserves another viewing from me. I liked it but I don’t think I understood it so I’ll stop making comparisons (see that article I wrote where I said you shouldn’t compare films (uuf))). I guess another thing I really liked was that this one felt way more human. The first scene is Giovanni (Marcello) and his wife Lidia (played by Jeanne Moreau (who looks nothing like how she did in Jules and Jim (1962)) go to visit their dying friend. Their friend’s mother soon comes in and their friend turns to his mother and says something along the lines of “These are my only two real friends. Everyone else are colleagues or acquaintances.”

This scene goes on for a little bit. Lidia leaves and Giovanni leaves five or ten minutes later. But! As he’s leaving, a female patient he and Lidia saw earlier asks him for a match, then she kisses him and drags him into her room. Giovanni isn’t totally cool with it but he also isn’t totally uncool with it. He doesn’t leave the room until nurses come in and slap the female patient who never appears in the film again. So, Giovanni is a cheating dude. But he also tells Lidia about it five minutes later. Her response to it is… nonchalant? Which concerns Giovanni. He feels bad about it, but Lidia is sitting here talking about that the female patient must be feeling better now. What kind of response is that, Lidia!?

Let’s stop talking about the plot. There are more things to talk about. Actually, let me just wrap up the plot quickly, spoiler free. They go to a book party (Giovanni is a well known author) and Lidia eventually leaves. She ends up in a part of town where people are shooting rockets in the streets. Giovanni goes home and can’t find her, she eventually calls and he goes to her. They eventually are back home and are getting ready to go out, but Lidia is going back and forth about wanting to go out or stay in, or if they go out if she wants to be with just him or go to that party they were going to. Decisions decisions. They eventually wind up at the party. And, get this, the party lasts an hour in the film. The whole night, hence the title La Notte which, according to my girlfriend who knows Italian, means “the night”.

Structurally, it’s a day in the life type of film, so it’s going to be episodic but with an overarching feeling. It follows this couple and Giovanni isn’t totally faithful to Lidia but he still seems to like her. She’s definitely in a rut this day, what with her friend dying in the hospital and all. So we don’t think too much about it. Also, this trilogy of Antonioni’s films look at the ennui of the bourgeoisie. For films like this, I think you have to use those words. It’s practically the law in film textbooks. And Lidia has plenty of ennui. Giovanni does as well, but to a lesser extent, I think.

It’s really bizarre watching this party scene because you just want to be there at this party. It’s at a beautiful house owned by a company founder (and the only person Giovanni knows there). A huge pool, a garden the size of a park, a live jazz band, putt putt, you name it. Everyone there is just having a really good time. But as you’re watching it, you also can tell that through what we know from the main characters, the filmmakers are poking fun at this lifestyle. So, you almost feel conflicted because you want to be in this party but then you’re one of the people they’re making fun of. This party isn’t as bad as, say, the end party of La Dolce Vita (1960). This party actually seems worth going to. Well, maybe they’re not making fun of the party guests. Maybe they’re using the party as a way to juxtapose how the main characters are feeling. Some of the older men Giovanni talks to seem to be intellectual enough to hold a conversation. Or maybe the film is taking an approach like The Exterminating Angel (1968) where, yes, they’re making fun of the bourgeoisie, but they also treat them as humans with problems. I don’t know. You can go back and forth with this party scene forever. Right now, I’m going to take the stance of they’re using the party as a way to explore a culture of boredom and the means of escaping that boredom. Maybe the most important part about the party is Lidia going back and forth about wanting to go/not wanting to go to it. Maybe, maybe, maybe.

I had another point, but I stopped writing this review for two days so I apologize for forgetting it/having it not be hastily written. This is probably a film that gets richer with each viewing. Oh! I remember what I was going to say. Again, going back to structure. This seems to be a film that unfolds episodically rather than a Hollywood type film where everything builds together. La Notte is a coherent whole because of this unfolding. It’s technically plotless, but there’s plenty of character revelations and conflicting motivations that drive it. While also plotless, setting seems to play a character of its own. When the couple aren’t in a room together, they’re looking for each other. A metaphor for distance and the inability to communicate. This inability to communicate plays out especially in the night club scene before the party, where Lidia has something on her mind but won’t tell Giovanni (but we find out at the end! Chekhov’s gun!).

I could write more, but I’m about to watch a movie. So, get ready for that review, hopefully it’s hastily written. La Notte is a superb film with much to say about humans, boredom, relationships, and communication and tells it in such a fascinating way that I will probably watch this film over and over again.

-ERO