An equally stunning follow-up to Michelangelo Antonioni's landmark 1960 film, L'avventura, La Notte explores similar themes of dysfunctional relationships and a seemingly unattainable search for sincere passion. Again, these underlying themes center on a loosely strung, somewhat inconsequential plot, elevated to fascinating heights by the film's meticulous pace and emphasis on visual nuance. The film admittedly pales to its predecessor a bit, lumbering at times during the first hour, before suddenly becoming rejuvenated when the iconic Monica Vitti transforms the film's dysfunctional couple into a love triangle. It's difficult to not fall under Vitti's spell in this film, her Valentina character emanating a sense of seduction that doesn't need dialogue. Unfortunately, Marcello Mastroianni and Jeanne Moreau's characters aren't quite as captivating, resulting in occasional lulls -- Moreau's aimless journey through the city streets being one of the more disturbing sequences. Yet even if these pre-Vitti lulls seem a bit laborious for the viewer or even challenging in their slow development, Antonioni's gift for visual composition makes even the least interesting scenes simply genius on a visual level. The powerful conclusion complements the film's poetic yet cold view of a dying relationship -- from beginning to end, the film simply wallows in unexplainable despair without even alluding to a sense of hope. Best appreciated when benchmarked against L'avventura's epic qualities and L'eclisse's almost painful austerity, La Notte serves as a perfect medium in terms of both narrative and technique -- engaging and poetic yet simple and direct.
by Jason Birchmeier review