Risk-taking is the real stunning style that Michelangelo Antonioni brings to each of his films. He has bold and great ideas, yet their execution is often redundant and dire. La Notte manages to circumvent those problems, more through its cast than its direction. A sad shame it may be that Blow-Up never managed to mount the manageable problems of its story with its effective casting, but at least La Notte rings through with far more success. It is, perhaps, due to the tone of the story and the calibre of casting displayed here. One single day in the life of a discouraged author, his suffering wife and their dying friend.
There are immediate limitations. La Notte cannot show the before and after, the stages of grief and acceptance that death can bring to the world. But what it can show is the pockets of fear and the sudden shift in tone and emotion that can happen all in one day. Antonioni adapts the mood and the ever-shifting state of living into La Notte with obvious strength. To display those shifting tides, we are given three leading characters. They embody an emotion, a feeling, and display that with confidence and articulation far beyond what could be expected of Antonioni’s craft. His less-than-stellar work on Blow-Up left much to be desired but pairing La Notte with a legend of the screen, Marcello Mastroianni. He pairs nicely with another icon of the screen, Jeanne Moreau.
Together, there is an understanding and acceptance of fading memories. There is a real justification from Antonioni to present these characters as suffering, broad strokes of life. Mastroianni in particular, who is a man disconnected from his old talent, strikes as a truly tortured soul. He has his high point, but that is far beyond him now, and his shock, when told that the beautiful writing he hears is his own, comes across as natural, efficient and effective. He is living the common crisis of the writer, but it appears his crisis far exceeds any real span of time. It is apparent that it is a permanent state, and Mastroianni demonstrates this with incredibly tortured anguish. So well, in fact, that he towers over the rest of the cast, a man out of step with the rest of the world not because he wishes to perceive himself as better than the rest, but because he is failing to adapt his worldview and approach to those he holds near and dear.
La Notte is both artful and articulate. It blends both parallels with one another, displaying real confidence in not just its framing and structure, but its characters, who move through a stressful day in their lives. Antonioni demonstrates an understanding of just how heavy life can be, and conducting this with a clear and cutting style makes it all the more potent and impactful. In part due to the strong performances are given throughout, but also credit to the work Antonioni provides. He blends the two parts of his piece perfectly well, understanding that the turmoil of his characters and the artistically rewarding approach of his direction must work hand in hand to uncover the innermost desires of not just his characters, but himself as well.