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La notte

La notte(1962)

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The post-war neo-realist movement in Italian film had faded by the early '50's, and most of the Italian films of that decade had returned to the escapist entertainment of the pre-war period. But by the early 1960's, directors who had come of age in the neo-realist era were finding their own voices, and the new wave of Italian cinema began, with Federico Fellini's La Dolce Vita (1960) and Michelangelo Antonioni's L'Avventura (1960).

La Notte (1960) is the second part of Antonioni's trilogy of alienation that fits between L'Avventura and L'Eclisse (1962). It is the journey of a single night in the relationship of a novelist (Marcello Mastroianni) and his wife (Jeanne Moreau) as they confront, but do not resolve, the crisis in their marriage. Set in Milan, Italy's most modern and industrial city, the film examines themes of failed communication and the sterility of modern life. By this time, Antonioni was less concerned with plot and story development in his films, and more with his characters' reactions. As a result, the imagery in La Notte often takes on a symbolic quality, with sterile cityscapes, reflections, characters separated by glass, and stark, almost architectural compositions. All of these are used to express the characters' isolation and disaffected ennui. In one memorable scene, Moreau and another character are shot entirely from outside a car, and we see them through the car window talking, but cannot hear their conversation.

Critics then and now were divided on the effectiveness of the performances. Martin Rubin observed that "Antonioni's is not basically an actor's cinema - his actors being reduced, to a great degree, to elements in a landscape and a formal plan....Moreau and Mastroianni, two high-powered international stars...seem visibly constrained by their roles in La Notte." Others praised them. Parker Tyler wrote, "Jeanne Moreau acts the part with extraordinary feeling and authority. The sweet life turned acrid is written all over her face." Mastroianni and Moreau are primarily film actors, and when the camera is fixed on their faces, their expressions are more eloquent than ordinary dialogue.

On the other hand, Monica Vitti, playing the third point of the marital triangle, was becoming the ideal Antonioni actress. In La Notte, as in L'Avventura, and later in L'Eclisse and Il Deserto Rosso (1964), Vitti allowed herself to be used as a blank canvas on which Antonioni could paint his bleak images, a "luminous cipher perfectly suited to her director's austere formalism," as one critic called her. It was not until she stopped working with Antonioni, however, that she was able to show her range, which includes a flair for comedy.

Antonioni's work would become even more elliptical and distanced from conventional narrative in subsequent films. Detractors say his films are too cerebral, too personal, too obscure, too aloof. But Antonioni himself says he's compelled to make the films he does: "some people believe I make films with my head; a few others think they come from the heart; for my part, I feel as though I make them with my stomach."

Director: Michelangelo Antonioni
Producer: Emanuele Cassuto
Screenplay: Michelangelo Antonioni, Tonino Guerra, Ennio Flaiano, based on a story by Antonioni
Editor: Eraldo Da Roma
Cinematography: Gianni Di Venanzo
Set Designer: Piero Zuffi
Music: Giorgio Gaslini
Principal Cast: Marcello Mastroianni (Giovanni Pontano), Jeanne Moreau (Lidia), Monica Vitti (Valentina Gherardini), Bernhard Wicki (Tommaso), Maria Pia Luzi (Patient), Rosy Mazzacurati (Resy).
BW-116m. Letterboxed.

by Margarita Landazuri

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