With the exception of Federico Fellini, Michelangelo Antonioni was internationally the best known Italian director during the foreign film boom of the 1960s.
Starting out with documentary shorts in the '40s, he made the transition to dramatic features in 1950. His reputation moved from relative obscurity to world acclaim with “L'Avventura” (1960), the first of a loosely defined “trilogy,” which also included “La Notte” (1961; now out on Blu-ray from Criterion) and “L'Eclisse” (1962). His fame spread exponentially with his English-language debut, “Blow-Up” (1966).
Like “Blow-Up,” the trilogy examines alienation and boredom in modern society. You might want to pack in some espresso, however, since “Blow-Up” is, in comparison, an action spectacular. “La Notte” tracks an afternoon and evening in the lives of Giovanni (Marcello Mastroianni) and his wife Lidia (Jeanne Moreau). The difference between Antonioni and Fellini is crystal clear: “La Dolce Vita,” a year earlier than “La Notte,” also looked at modern decadence, but managed to make it fun at times. “La Notte” is more remarkable in terms of visual (and, to a lesser extent, audio) style.
It's a frigid film, with more long shots than close-ups, as we watch Giovanni and Lidia pass through the coldness of Milan's new unadorned, square-edged buildings. Moreau has played joyless characters before, but it must have been difficult for the always charming Mastroianni to play down his natural humanness.
The disc boasts a new transfer, which — like other recent Criterions — balances grain and sharpness to create a vibrant black-and-white image. The extras produced for this edition are few but illuminating. Interviews with critic Adriano Apra and film historian Carlo Di Carlo are intercut into a single half-hour exploration of the movie, providing general context and appraisal. Harvard professor Giuliana Bruno gets her own half-hour to analyze the film in terms of its architecture.
“La Notte” Criterion, Blu-ray, $39.95; DVD, $29.95
ANDY KLEIN is the film critic for Marquee. He can also be heard on "FilmWeek" on KPCC-FM (89.3).