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La Vitti Trilogia

04.23.2014

Monica Vitti-lavventura

There are only a few films (and film stars) for which long after you’ve left the theater, even years later, you yearn for a particular character to still be, as in, exist, be alive, in the very age and style and manner they were in the film. In Michelangelo Antonioni’s trilogy, this happens in the graceful form of Monica Vitti. L’Avventura, the first, and an absolute masterpiece, one of the greatest films of all time, introduces Vitti–gorgeous, lively, profound, generous, lovely. La Notte, the second, doesn’t really get good until Vitti shows up (at the climax of the “night” in question). In L’Eclisse, she is the entire film, as if Antonioni had run out of all ideas except for having her on camera. [All three films are up on Hulu right now, along with Red Desert, another Vitti classic and of a piece with the Trilogy films.]

Antonioni’s (and Vitti’s) development of the character over the three films is fairly straightforward. In the first she’s young and innocent, earnest, with just of hint of the incipient anomie that will gradually take over, first in the flashes of depression in La Notte (still compensated by the search for true love and true feeling), and eventually the fully fledged apathy of L’Eclisse, where disillusionment reigns, and any attempt to overcome it is thrown unceremoniously back in her face. One of the reasons why the films get progressively harder to watch is this very development. The second and third films have the same brilliant cinematography and lighting and moments of great beauty and great acting, but their existential dread cannot be conquered. In La Notte, this dread exudes not from Vitti primarily but from the character played by Jeanne Moreau, whom Antonioni uses as a foil for the younger Vitti (Moreau’s character is a basic foreshadowing of Vitti’s in the third film). Whether you indulge in dread or no, L’Avventura is the only one of the three with perfect balance.

The endings to the first two films are nearly the same, dawn reemergence, albeit with a drop in optimism as to the potential outcomes in the second film. The third is the final darkened judgment on the first two, which comes in the form of dusk absence. Antonioni’s obsession with the modernization of environment and morality is evident everywhere, in the cinematography and the plot as well as the dialogue itself. Some of this is still apt:

Soon hospitals will look just like nightclubs.

Having just spent too much time in a hospital, I can vouch for the continued odd reality of this sentiment. Shots of highrises looming over two thousand-year old Italian ruins and Renaissance-era architecture are just as easily felt in Rome today as they were in the Sixties. It’s oppressive, Antonioni knows this, and so gives us his cast of beauties to get us through the dark night of the soul in which we’ve found ourselves. Only we don’t get out. We stay, continuing to hope for the kind of romantic love and meaning no longer available to us or our modern society. It’s as if we’ve lost our language, which was the only thing that could have been used to help us cope.

These films are achingly beautiful, as Vitti is in them. The now famous L’Avventura image of dark, ominous island volcanoes as the backdrop to all that frustrated inaction and utter lack of resolve–these things that are supposed to explode and spew forth with vigor but never do–is about as good as it gets in cinema.

vitti-antonioni

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