The Night (La Notte)

I'm part-way through Mark Cousins' The Story of Film: An Odyssey (very impressive, if occasionally exasperating). Michelangelo Antonioni gets relatively brief treatment, but Cousins identifies his preference for framing people at the edge of shots as being particularly innovative. Watching The Night, I very quickly became aware of this. Cousins argues that the device suggests a separateness between characters – people circling the empty world around them. The effect is most commonly used for depicting Jeanne Moreau, who we learn at the end is feeling suicidal. Throughout the film, Antonioni visually puts her on a knife edge.

There is more formal ingenuity to sink one's film-school teeth into. The Night is built around one married couple and two love triangles. The third wheels mirror each other – one is at the end of his life and the other is at the beginning of hers. Each love triangle get its own 'triangle scene', one at the beginning and one at the end of the film, in which the camera moves in an especially conspicuous and rigid way, highlighting the connections between the characters. The shot in which Marcello Mastroianni, Jeanne Moreau and Monica Vitti stare towards (and beyond) the camera is especially brilliant, each observing while not knowing they are observed. Moreau is the one that turns to 'complete' the triangle – she is the most self-aware character, and also the most lonely.

Even the dialogue expresses the sense of orbiting bodies around a black hole. People talk in parallel monologues rather than to each other, and there are only occasional moments where meanings connect. Much of the script is therefore obtuse, and if anything, I wanted it to be more purposefully so. I suspect Antonioni wanted these people's ramblings to suggest the empty poetry of the human condition. I think the film would have been more striking still if the characters seemed to barely speak the same language – bored by everyone and fatally robbed of the curiosity of trying to understand each other.

The title refers to the all-night house party in which Mastroianni leaves Moreau to chase after Vitti, but the film is also about the long night that encloses all our lives. It begins with a dying man and ends with the wife at the edge of dissolution, a corpse to be violated by her grasping, desperate husband. The film suggests that the inevitable end of love robs life of meaning, leaving empty shells drifting past each other in silence.

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