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01 January 2009

An Example of Antonioni's Subtle Direction

From what little I know of criticism on Antonioni (third-hand), the emphasis has been on the inspired use of interior or exterior space to show alienation and isolation. Those static shots are definitely typical, but what seems less appreciated is Antonioni's unobtrusive but deft camera moves which compress an amazing amount of meaning into one image.

At the end of La Notte, an estranged couple finally come together (perhaps only for a moment) in a long-delayed release of raw emotion. How this is shown is typical of how Antonioni finds poetry in starkly realistic settings, how he uses locations, movement, and framing to tell a story on several levels simultaneously.

Check the scene out here:



Note the trees at 0:19. At far left is a sole tree; at the right, two more. At about 0:44, there is a cut to a frame which excludes the sole tree stage left. Jeanne Moreau then tells Mastroianni about the death of their mutual friend, Tommaso.

Around 1:57, you see Moreau and tree in the frame as she speaks of her insecurity and how Tommaso selflessly bolstered Moreau's wobbly self-regard. As Moreau tells Mastroianni how much more selfish he seems against Tommaso's intense concern and engagement, Antonioni cuts to Mastroianni -- with the other tree in frame. Moreau keeps talking; the use of out-of-frame dialogue is pure Antonioni.

At 2:42, as Mastroianni talks (out-of-frame) about Tommaso, Moreau walks toward "Tommaso's" tree and, stroking the leaves, tells her husband how desperately distraught she is, communicating directly for the first time in the film. Tommaso's influence?

Soon Mastroianni comes into frame, and the two are sheltered, almost embraced, by the tree. They leave its shelter, sit, and finally speak honestly to each other. (Interestingly, the tree of knowledge -- or perhaps wisdom -- leads to a seeming reconciliation in this incidental Eden.) Moreau reads a moving love letter that Mastroianni had written to her years go. Mastroianni doesn't recognize it -- this is how estranged from himself, even, he has become. The shock of learning that he once could feel so strongly is beautifully captured by Mastroianni's face. And then the flood comes.

Note the final shot (from about 9:40). The once-separate trees come together in front of their embrace in the 9:50s -- and we continue on out of their world. Fine.

Beautiful film-making. You can watch the entire film here:


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