Director: Michelangelo Antonioni
Production: Nepi Film (Rome), Sofitedip (Paris), and Silver Films (Paris); black and white, 35mm; running time: 120 minutes. Released February 1961, Italy. Filmed 1960 in Milan.
Producer: Emanuele Cassuto; screenplay: Michelangelo Antonioni, Ennio Flaiano, and Tonino Guerra; photography: Gianni Di Venanzo; editor: Eraldo Da Roma; sound: Claudio Maielli; art director: Piero Zuffi; music: Giorgio Gaslini and his Quartette.
Cast: Jeanne Moreau ( Lidia ); Marcello Mastroianni ( Giovanni ); Monica Vitti ( Valentina Gerardini ); Bernhard Wicki ( Tommaso );
Award: Berlin Film Festival, Best Film, 1961.
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* * *
Michelangelo Antonioni's La notte is about an artist's life at the height of Italy's economic miracle; it depicts several hours, including the whole night, in the life of Giovanni Pontano, a novelist, on the day of the publication of his latest book.
The film opens with a visit by Pontano and his wife, Lidia, to the most sympathetic figure of the film, the Marxist editor Tommaso, who is in a hospital dying of cancer. Later, during a long and tedious all-night party at the home of a Milanese industrialist, who wants to buy Pontano's services to promote his business, Lidia learns that Tommaso has died.
The fascination of the film lies in its representation of boredom: a routine book party unenlivened by the actual appearance of Salvatore Quasimodo, then a recent Nobel laureate; Lidia's aimless walk at the outskirts of Milan, while Giovanni tries to nap in his study; an unsatisfying visit to a nightclub; and the endless meanderings and regroupings of the affluent guests at the party.
Within that matrix Pontano's sexual adventures become an index of his moral, and even artistic, collapse. He allows himself to be grabbed and caressed by a nymphomaniac in the hospital until two brutal nurses separate them and beat the woman; he trails the dilettante daughter of the industrialist around her mansion and ultimately fails to seduce her: and, in the film's last moments, on what appears to be the host's private golf course, he starts to make love to his wife, after she reads him an old love letter which he does not recognize as his own.
Antonioni manipulates entrances and exits and ambiguous shifts of scale, in order to shift regularly between his principal characters while maintaining the impression that their independent actions are linked together, almost as if they could see each other in their privacy. This impression is furthered by the well-ordered system of countershots which stress distance between characters even when they are behaving intimately. This is the most emphatic in the increasing lengths at which the camera is placed from the couple at the film's conclusion.
—P. Adams Sitney