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The end of the affair
on 1 December 2012
Masters of Cinema's UK region-free PAL DVD of Michaelangelo Antonioni's La Notte may not have many extras (just a trailer and a detailed booklet) but it has marvellous picture quality that puts Fox-Lorber's previous US release to shame - it looks like it was shot yesterday, which is just as well since the visuals are so important.
Surprisingly accessible, it's one of the great films about architecture - not just the architecture of a city in transition but the emotional architecture of a relationship in quiet crisis. There's a real attention to the shape of things, with clear, clean lines that people never quite fit in. For much of the film Marcello Mastroianni and Jeanne Moreau are constantly separated even when sharing the same frame while in some scenes it is hard to tell what is the reflection and what is the real image, consigning characters to a virtual visual limbo, ghosts haunting their own empty lives.
It defines the state of their relationship in much the same way that Anthony Mann's films use the landscape to define character rather than just to create an environment, going further to offer a state of the nation address. Moreau is part of an Italy that's being torn down and discarded: Mastroianni is drifting towards a post-war modernity where conspicuous wealth and angular concrete, steel and glass design create a kind of anonymous gilded inertia where trivia surpasses real heartfelt connection with people or the past. The relationship is in its last gasps, occupying a kind of wasteland awaiting redevelopment: the scene with Moreau dispassionately reading a love letter filled with powerful and passionate emotions that Mastroianni has forgotten he ever had (he doesn't even remember who wrote the letter) is a killer.
Besides, the film comes highly recommended in the end credits of Monty Python's Life of Brian ('If you have enjoyed this film, why not go and see La Notte?'), so you know it's worth it!