N.U.

N.U. ★★★

Like People of the Po Valley, N.U. seems most interesting for its early glimpse into what would become its filmmaker's central preoccupations. In this grounded (and oddly jazzy?) documentary about Italian street cleaners, Antonioni is constantly finding finding oddness amidst regular routines: one cleaner picks up a weird mask and stares into the camera, another spends lunch playing with a paper snowflake, and still others are framed working as towering statues and cathedrals loom in the distance. There's a great shot of a couple walking by a developed section of the river, not a natural line in sight. The one big difference, to my mind, is that for all Antonioni's sympathy for this group of workers, there's an order and logic to how the film communicates their lives. Their work comes across as natural, even if Antonioni’s aim is to call attention to the precarity of life on the margins. Compare that to Red Desert, where our main characters are alienated from almost everything in their lives, from the space they inhabit to the ideas that give it meaning.