Rapid Response: The Passenger

Jack Nicholson and Maria Schneider go existential in this introspective 1975 drama from Italian auteur Michelangelo Antonioni.

The Passenger PosterOn paper, “The Passenger” sounds like a thriller. But it’s an introspective examination of the self, an existential road trip movie with a spy element and a hint of danger. This is the way Michelangelo Antonioni does cloak and dagger espionage.

Jack Nicholson stars in the film and gives a stirring performance released the same year as his first Oscar-winning work as “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” Nicholson plays David Locke, a journalist in Africa so fed up with his assignment that he throws up his hands and declares he doesn’t care anymore. His car gets stuck in the sand, he’s literally spinning his wheels, and as he agonizes in defeat, Antonioni’s camera pans to reveal the enormity of the desert.

Back in his hotel, he finds his one English speaking companion, David Robertson, dead in his room. Jack reacts to it with the same irritated scowl as not having soap for the shower. Locke convinces the hotel clerks that he’s the one who’s dead, while he assumes the identity of Robertson, leaving his wife and his job behind. The only challenge is that Robertson is an illegal arms dealer in Africa. Continue reading “Rapid Response: The Passenger”

Rapid Response: L’Avventura

Roger Ebert wrote about “L’Avventura” in his great movies entry that when he first saw Michelangelo Antonioni’s film in 1960 when he was merely 18 that he didn’t understand it’s greatness, and how could he, he asks? I was excited to see the film after seeing how many best of all time lists the film was on, and although I enjoyed it, I have to say I felt much of the same way.

The film is about a pair of lovers entrenched in decadence but bored beyond anything but their own sexuality. To say I didn’t really get that until I read it and heard it compared to Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita” speaks to my own youth and inexperience (I also haven’t seen the Fellini movie).

What I did notice was a film filled with lying, cheating and seduction all photographed in striking black and white and deliberately paced. The film’s simple dialogue reveals some remarkably dry, insouciant characters with nothing but the idea of a forbidden love on their minds.

Sandro (Gabriele Ferzetti) is engaged to Anna (Lea Massari), and just before they leave to go on a cruise with Anna’s friend Claudia (Monica Vitti), they make her wait as they have sex, with her peering into the window in the distance. Later, Anna acts strangely on the cruise ship, making up a story about a shark and then disappearing on an island.

Sandro and Claudia spend much of their time looking for her, but soon give up and start their own tortured love affair. Naturally, the film is not about Anna’s disappearance but how Claudia unknowingly begins to transform into Anna, filling the void for Sandro.

This is my cursory understanding of the film. I didn’t quite grasp just yet how it was perceived as so radical in 1960, earning boos from a suspicious audience at Cannes but going on to win the Special Jury Prize for its “new film language and beautiful visuals.” It certainly is shocking in its sex appeal for 1960, right on the cusp of the edge of the production code system in America. It also has lovely deep focus cinematography that is at times just chilling.

I’ll have to watch the film again, but some others to watch before then include his other masterpiece “Blow-Up” and the three other movies he made with the legendary Monica Vitti (too bad I missed all those screenings at the IU Cinema).