Disc Jockey: ‘La Notte’ offers more than just bored, hot Europeans

Jeanne Moreau and Marcello Mastroianni play a couple who've fallen out of love in "La Notte." Credit: The Criterion Collection
Jeanne Moreau and Marcello Mastroianni play a couple who’ve fallen out of love in “La Notte.”
Credit: The Criterion Collection

‘La Notte’
Criterion Collection
$39.95

Bored, attractive, well-dressed Europeans were all over screens in the early 1960s, some of them in “La Dolce Vita” and “Last Years at Marienbad,” but most of them in the films of Michelangelo Antonioni. Starting with “L’Avventura,” the Italian filmmaker made what was loosely called “the trilogy of alienation.” (Although if we’re being sticklers, it’s really a quadrilogy, including 1964’s “Red Desert,” as well as 1961′s “La Notte” and 1962′s “The Eclipse.”) In these, pretty actors — Monica Vitti, who was in all of them, plus Alain Delon and Gabriele Ferzetti — wandered underpopulated cities, weighed down by idle wealth. His is a style easily lampooned, or worse: Pauline Kael loved “L’Avventura,” but detested its follow-up, “La Notte,” in which she took umbrage with people being bored at all when there’s so much in life worth loving.

So much is made of the dehumanization in Antonioni’s films that it’s easy to forget they’re about the battle between emotion and the forces that extinguish emotions. “La Notte” is a modernist masterwork about how modern life is rubbish, but it’s also a grim relationship film about desiccated love. Marcello Mastroianni and Jeanne Moreau play a couple. He’s an esteemed novelist who has lost passion for work, and much else. He barely notices when, after a party for his latest book, she wanders off, aimlessly strolling to the outskirts of Milan, where new money has yet to raze decaying buildings and patches of wasteland. The two attempt a date night, but only wind up at a party where they hook up (or try to) with others, including the hotcha, self-aware daughter of an industrialist (Vitti).

There’s another movie going on in “La Notte,” a more spirited one in which Mastroianni and Moreau’s characters are younger and madly in love. We only get glimpses of this, in them revisiting places they used to frequent or with a love letter he once wrote her that he can no longer ID as his own. Watching it is like watching “Before Midnight,” but not “Before Sunrise” and “Before Sunset,” and wondering what Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke ever saw in eachother. (The major difference is at least Delpy and Hawke talk.) Their love is at this point purely abstract; what made them fall for eachother is a forgotten dream.

The stars allegedly hated making “La Notte,” where they’re called on to do very little but stand and look disaffected. But they’ve rarely been more affecting. Mastroianni has disappeared so deeply inside himself he can barely get excited over macking on Monica Vitti. And Moreau, at this point in her career largely used as an ice queen, very carefully radiates despair. While barely moving or speaking, she gives possibly her most human performance.

Of course, this is the height of “Antoniennui,” meaning that no one much moves or speaks or seems to have much on their mind. But he conveys feeling through artificial means. Antonioni carefully places his actors so they’re separated by boundaries, or stuck in place. (One shot has them standing still next to two trees that mirror their positions.) The use of reflecting windows further suggests the past as a ghost, albeit one haunting more by suggestion. It’s not just the 1960s and changing times and the bourgeois life that hold our heroes back. This is a portrait of a couple who’ve stayed together too long to start over again, who failed to call it quits at the right time and now lack energy. As with most of his other films, Antonioni is trying to film the intangible — emotions and neuroses that don’t particularly lend themselves to drama or even, necessarily, cinema. But he finds a way to capture them anyway.

Also out:

‘White House Down’
As with “Deep Impact” vs. “Armageddon,” “Antz” vs. “A Bug’s Life” or “No Strings Attached” vs. “Friends With Benefits,” America was stuck with a decision: Which of the two same films to make a hit and which to make less of a hit? Of the dueling “’Die Hard’ in the White House” pictures this year, the lower-rent “Olympus Has Fallen” won, while the super-budgeted “White House Down” actually tanked. We won’t make great claims for it, but the latest from ensemble disaster maven Roland Emmerich (“Independence Day”) is cheerfully ridiculous, and has Channing Tatum as its deadpan John McLane. May it live long on the small screen.

‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: The Extended Edition’
If you thought it was ridiculous that it took Peter Jackson 169 minutes to tell a third of a slender fantasy novel for kids, then guess what? Now it’s 13 minutes longer. Perhaps there’s more of the sick hedgehog who has to be resuscitated?

‘Mad Men: Season Six’
Don Draper et al. finds their way into the late 1960s, making room for such historical events as the MLK and RFK assassinations, plus a cameo from “Planet of the Apes.”

‘Passion’
Brian De Palma makes his first “Brian De Palma” film in ages — that is to say, a delightfully twisty, trashy thriller with split screen and zooms. Rachel McAdams and Noomi Rapace duke it out (and sometimes make out) in the cut-throat world of advertising.


News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Local

Oval oasis: Summer of fun kicks off this…

A bold partnership between the Fairmount Park Conservancy and the city's Parks and Recreation Department is kicking off this weekend with family activities re-activating this unused public space.

Local

African couple claiming misidentification in robbery case to…

At a bail hearing today for Vickson and Lorfu Korlewala, charged in the robbery of an 80-year-old woman, bail was reduced from $1 million total to $500,000.

International

Jews in eastern Ukraine ordered to register, Kerry…

Secretary of State John Kerry condemned reports that Jews in eastern Ukraine had been ordered to register with the authorities "or suffer the consequences."

National

Chelsea Clinton pregnant with first child

Chelsea Clinton is pregnant with her first child.

Television

Dick Wolf to bring fictionalized world of 'Law…

A&E has ordered a pilot called "D.O.A." from "Law and Order" mastermind Dick Wolf that will focus on real detectives reexamining cold cases. A trio…

Movies

Review: 'Transcendence' is not stupid but sometimes lacks…

The cyberthriller "Transcendence" explores artificial intelligence, nanotechnology and other ethical quandaries, but has too much ambition, if anything.

Television

Shane West talks WGN America's 'Salem'

The actor on history lessons, a new network and showing his butt.

Music

Both feet on the ground with Aimee Mann…

What began with a cool double-bill of Ted Leo opening for Aimee Mann morphed into a full-fledged collaborative project that they're calling The Both. “There…

MLB

Jimmy Rollins is key to Phillies success

When John Kruk was asked about what the Phillies need to contend for a playoff berth, the ESPN analyst said Jimmy Rollins needs to play like a MVP again.

MLB

Ben Revere lifts Phillies to avoid sweep

Ben Revere came through with a two-out RBI single against Atlanta’s tough lefthander Alex Wood.

NBA

Season wrap: 76ers make the grade

The 76ers opened the 2013-14 season with a victory over the Miami Heat. The Sixers closed the season with a win at Miami.

NBA

Fantasy basketball: Finding next year's NBA studs

Before we put the 2013-14 fantasy basketball season to bed, it’s worth thinking about next year’s breakouts while they’re fresh in our mind.

Style

Light-up nail art syncs with phone

This Japanese technology syncs light-up nail art with your phone.

Wellbeing

Why is dance cardio taking off in NYC?

Instructors at some of the city's hottest classes explain why.

Travel

Earth Day travel in the Florida Keys

See why this eco-friendly destination deserves your attention.

Tech

Sorry, Facebook — FarmVille goes mobile with 'Country…

Zynga has released a version of the hit "FarmVille" tailored for smartphones and tablets in the hope of reaping a bumper crop of players.