La Notte ★★★★½

I'm really getting to like the films of Michelangelo Antonioni, having loved this, L'Avventura and Blow-Up.

Whilst the first film of his alienation trilogy had an otherworldly, slow, fevered atmosphere some describe as boredom, it was in much of La Notte that I found something akin to boredom or neutrality or even a very mild depression: a feeling of what standard days are like in the spaces between things: the way that much of life is spent waiting for things to get better, to change, to happen. This doesn't make it sound like an exciting watch, but then if that matters you'd probably be better off with a Bruce Willis movie.

La Notte is a very grown-up film about a decaying relationship. Giovanni (Marcello Mastroianni) and Lidia (Jeanne Moreau) don't shout or throw things at each other or make threats, they get on with their day with a bit of civilised and grumpy discussion and then go to a party. (This trilogy is sometimes denigrated because it's about privileged people, but ignoring details such as champagne, or the size of the house where the party is held, La Notte, a film which takes place in one day, mostly seems like the shape of a Saturday for a childless middle class couple with an active social life.)
I felt that much of this film was a more realistic portrayal of behaviour in a relationship such as it is among the majority of people, who are not emotionally dramatic. I do not get the impression that one or other of them is having to act normal as if life depended on it when inside they actually feel sick and panicky all the time. Emotions are adequately contained but still expressed strongly at appropriate moments, those moments which may cast a spell: these people are normal but not dead inside. And I rather wish I had seen this film a few times in my teens and early twenties as it would have been a useful and educational contrast to so much else.

Giovanni and Lidia have a slight flatness which is very realistic. And then, zap, Valentina (Monica Vitti) appears at the party. I'd previously associated Vitti with likewise being very grown-up in character, but still sexy: here, appropriately named, she is playful and fizzy and young-seeming, a proto manic pixie dream girl who brings with her a feeling of being alive. (Even though her personal preoccupations are actually shallower than those of the other main characters, which seems a very damning comment on the whole world of the film.)

It seems almost strange to feel so much love for films which are meant to induce alienation and boredom akin to the characters' experience. The hackneyed phrase is, I suppose that they strike a chord. But they are also calming and there may be something to learn here. I am very much looking forward to L'Eclisse and Red Desert.