La Notte The Death Of Love: In Michelangelo Antonioni’s film La Notte the death of love.
La Notte The Death Of Love In Michelangelo Antonioni
The warning signs are obvious from the beginning. A visit to a friend in the hospital is the setting for the beginning of Michelangelo Antonioni’s La Notte, which follows novelist Giovanni (Marcello Mastroianni) and his wife, Lidia (Jeanne Moreau).
Tommaso (Bernhard Wicki), who is dying of terminal cancer, expresses his inability to maintain a level of interest in their group of friends since he has run out of energy. He’s delighted to be spending time with these two, but he asks that no other visitors come. According to Tommaso, “It’s remarkable how bored you can get of faking after a while.” When faced with the impending prospect of death, who has the time to waste by behaving as if you don’t give a damn? At the end of the day, life is way too short, and it is far too lengthy up until that moment.
Lidia walks out of the hospital fairly abruptly as a result of this interaction, and she eventually breaks down in tears practically as soon as she gets outside the door. Except for the obvious emotional toll of seeing a friend in this state, we have no idea why this encounter has had such a profound impact on her.
We will discover more about her problems in the coming days. While attempting to track down his agitated wife, Giovanni is distracted by a chance encounter in the hospital with another patient—a sick young woman who drags him into her room and pushes herself on him. It’s possible that the word “forces” is a bit strong here, as Giovanni’s face is plainly lit up with want at the possibility of taking advantage of this vulnerable woman.
Giovanni is overcome with guilt as he drives away from the hospital and confesses the affair to Lidia. Rather than admitting his complicity, as well as his active participation in and manipulation of this young woman’s ailment for his own carnal pleasure, he explains to Lidia that he was attacked and overwhelmed—and that he had no choice in the matter, according to his own account.
Giovanni is surprised to learn that his wife is not upset by the news. To the contrary, she appears a little upset that he felt the need to inform her in this manner. He doesn’t know that this isn’t a surprise to her in the least. She recognized the young woman as they walked into the hospital, and she is aware of her husband’s identity at this point in their relationship. She’s already given up the fight.
What follows this is a long stretch of the film where Lidia makes her way on foot across Milan. Known as “the great cinematic traveller,” Moreau’s face perfectly expresses what we need to feel about Lidia: a sense of wonder, a sense of loss, a sense of loss and a sense of loss. Her ruminations on the lives she could have had, on the people with whom she has no emotional connection but longs to be in communication, are captured in this poem. She notices bodies pressed up against one another, employees taking a break to eat something, children shooting off rockets in a field, and men hard at work inside their homes. Despite the fact that Lidia longs to be a part of the life that exists out here, Antonioni’s grasp of modern-day disconnection keeps her at a safe distance from it all.
Antonioni, via his unwavering gaze on the architecture of Milan, makes us feel as if we are part of the city. A tower serves as the backdrop for an opening credit sequence that takes place even before Tommaso’s first encounter with him. This is the only building that existed in Milan at the time of its construction, and as we pan down its facade while the titles roll, we can see in its reflection the city that Lidia would soon explore. We become immersed in this contemplative quality as Lidia contemplates her own existence and the nagging feeling of becoming a simply fixed component of the city with no life of her own, using the world around her as a springboard.
In one critical scene, while Lidia saunters through Milan, she comes across a network of waist-high pillars poking out from the ground. Beginning a game of weaving in and out of the posts, she comes upon an old woman who is slumped down, standing where a post would be. When Lidia walks past this woman, she weaves in and around her as if she were a post herself, an object that is as much a part of the city as any building she passes. As she walks away from the scene, Lidia looks back, her gaze fixed on the elderly woman, who appears to be suffering. Will she one day become this woman? Is she already what she appears to be, a lifeless thing that travels between these posts as if she were a machine?
The crisp, icy modern architecture of the city echoes the façade of her marriage—the counterfeit routine of the world she’s been imprisoned in; one where people don’t say the things they mean, don’t express their feelings and are at all times lying to one another and to themselves. Eventually, Lidia moves away from this part of the city and into more run-down areas of it.
In what appears to be the aftermath of World War II, we observe buildings that are in disrepair, have been worn down, have peeling paint, and have crumbled away. These areas of the city, like Lidia, are still standing, still in the same spot they’ve always been and will continue to be, but they have been damaged by history. They’re completely ruined. Anthony Antonioni cleverly uses the environment surrounding his main character to mirror her inner life—not necessarily how she is perceived by the audience, but how she perceives herself.
In La Notte, Lidia is the perpetual observer, and we the observers of the observer. This becomes more pronounced in the second half of the film, when Giovanni and Lidia are invited to a lavish villa party with their upper-crust acquaintances. The two are quickly separated and spend the rest of the night reliving incidents that are indicative of where they have arrived in their own lives.
Lidia’s roaming continues, as do her meditations on her own misery, which are enhanced by her voyeuristic observations of the other guests at the party. The young woman passes past an elderly gentleman who has a young woman awkwardly restrained against a wall. “Well… maybe,” she overhears a woman remark, to which the man responds, “Listen, that response isn’t good enough for me,” she continues. Is this a re-enactment of a conversation she and Giovanni may have had in the past?
Her husband, on the other hand, is exactly where we would expect him to be: flirting with a woman who is significantly younger than himself. Giovanni is entranced by Valentina (Monica Vitti), a self-assured, headstrong participant who we later learn is the daughter of the party’s hostess. While Lidia roams the hallways like a ghost, Giovanni becomes entranced by Valentina.
When all of these swirling ruminations on the state of each character’s existence reach a boiling point, it is called the “crescendo” of La Notte. For Giovanni, Valentina embodies everything he yearns for but is unable to achieve with Lidia: youth, vigor, excitement, and spontaneity, among other things. Because Valentina represents the promise and hope of a life that has yet to be lived for Lidia, Antonioni outfits her and her daughter in similar black gowns and haircuts, as if they were the same person all along.
When Lidia and Valentina cross paths, they don’t see each other as enemies, which is one of many interesting bits of subversion in La Notte, which is a high point in Antonioni’s career of creating actualized female characters and utilizing the female gaze. When Lidia and Valentina cross paths, they don’t see each other as enemies, which is another interesting bit of subversion.
Rather of taking a hostile position against one another, they acknowledge their respective roles within the patriarchal culture in which they live. Valentina is becoming what Lidia will most certainly become in the future, and they both seem to be aware of this. Instead of reacting angrily to Giovanni’s indiscretion, Lidia accepts it as a given, as she has done since the beginning of the film.
A similar resignation can be seen in an earlier party scene between Giovanni and a woman who claims to be his most ardent admirer in the country of Italy. A lady expresses interest in reading a novel about a woman who loves a guy, but who is rejected by him despite his admiration for her brilliance and temperament. He responds by saying that he would want to read about a woman who loves a man, but who is rejected by him. “But how would a story like that finish?” she inquires of Giovanni, only to answer her own question by suggesting that the story would end with the lady killing herself for the happiness of another woman.
While the notion of Valentina gaining “happiness” from Giovanni is up for discussion, she and Lidia seem to be two halves of the same coin in their respective ways. “You have no idea how it feels to have the years weigh on you, and nothing makes any sense,” Lidia says to her during a private moment together. Tonight, I feel like I’m going to die. I really believe it. Then this misery may come to an end, and something completely new could begin.”
As soon as Lidia sees that Giovanni is in the room, she makes it a point to inform him that she didn’t say anything out of envy in order to avoid offending him further. She is well aware of who her husband is and what he does, but she has lost all will to resist any longer. Possibly there used to be, but that is no longer true. The old lady with her shoulders slumped over is as much a part of the architecture as a waist-high post that you may walk around on your own two feet.
It’s a quiet film, even for someone as notoriously distant as Antonioni could be—a director who was so obsessed with alienation that he could alienate a large number of viewers—but La Notte is a quiet film. He has no intention of spoon-feeding his viewers the inner lives of his characters through speech, as he believes this would be a waste of time. Instead, he enables picture and performance to convey their essence, as well as his ever-present fascination with the world in which they live.
It’s telling that the majority of the walls in this big villa are made of glass. The characters are able to see each other when Lidia is touring the estate and Giovanni and Valentina are performing a dance of temptation back and forth. Their gaze is obscured by the glass that separates them. You can look through the glass pane to the person on the other side, but you are unable to enter. A phantom of a connection has appeared. In truth, it just serves to keep people apart and, instead, provides them with the time to reflect on their own actions and decisions.
In the end, it is only with painful admissions and brutal realities that the truth at the heart of the key relationship is revealed — and not with histrionics or melodrama.
After a night of diversions at the party and being surrounded by the alienating architecture of the city, Lidia and Giovanni are finally alone in their relationship. It is here that they finally and completely disclose how broken, empty, and hopeless they truly are. When Lidia informs Giovanni that her husband Tomasso died the previous night, which she found by contacting the hospital from the party, she reveals that Tomasso mistook her for someone with greater power and wisdom than she possesses.
His belief in it grew so strong that she began to believe it as well. He instilled in her a sense of self-assurance and acceptance that her spouse, who could only ever speak about himself, had never experienced. Despite this, she could never fall in love with Tomasso.
Lidia pulls out a note from her purse as she and her husband sit next to one other and reads it aloud to him.
That piece of writing is absolutely lovely, written by a man who had just spent the night with her and is telling about how he was staring at her as she slept, overcome by this miraculous moment and their connection. He had the impression that she was completely his, but even more so that she had become a part of him. The spectator, as well as Giovanni, are left with the sense that Tomasso was the one who wrote her this letter. “Who wrote that?” her husband inquires after she has finished reading. “You did,” she said with a savage grin.
After failing in his attempts to persuade Lidia that she still loves him, Giovanni replies to this note in the only manner he knows how: by mauling her, pulling her to the ground, and kissing her despite her evident opposition. “No, I’m not in love with you anymore,” she adds. “And you don’t care for me either,” she says. “Be silent,” he says in response to my question.
It is only in these last minutes that Antonioni finally brings the hammer down on the dynamic that has maintained throughout the film. It’s about a man who will never be satisfied, who is always hungry for the next thing to feed his insatiable ego; it’s also about the woman who has had her years stolen from her, who he has constantly confined to the point where it feels like there is nothing left for her to do.
The camera can’t take it any more after two hours of being fixated on Moreau’s desolate face while she wanders the ruins of the life she dreams she could have had. In the background, Antonioni pans away as Lidia continues to resist, and Giovanni remains firm in his belief that this is how love looks.