Cinematic Expression in "L’Avventura"

The mark of an outstanding creative work is its accessibility to multiple critical points of view. Such is the case of Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’Avventura, which has been generally recognized as one of the most important films of the 60's, but has not generated a consensus of opinion as to its interpretation. This is not to say that the various critical interpretations contradict each other so much as that they seem to emphasize different ideas with regard to what is central and what is peripheral to the film’s meaning.

There is no question that the film seems to mean something, even if it is the meaninglessness of human existence. For though the film concerns primarily the relationship between Sandro and Claudia, the departure from conventional narrative style and the suggestiveness of the visual imagery convey a notion of larger significance. Generally critical opinion has fallen into several main categories concerning L’Avventura’s ultimate theme:
  1. that it is an attack on the depravity and uselessness of the upper middle class in Italy,
  2. that it is a condemnation of the obsolete moral values and ethical ideals of the bourgeoisie,
  3. that it is an examination of the impossibility of human communication or love in the present age, and
  4. that it is an investigation into the changing, and perhaps inverting, roles of men and women in modern society.
Obviously these categories are somewhat arbitrary and far from mutually independent, but they will serve for the present purpose. Thematic categories (1) and (2) focus on a social context and seem to draw on the knowledge that Antonioni had a Marxist background. (3) is concerned more with the individual, while (4) exists on the level of social psychology. My own feeling is that the third position comes closest to being the central issue, with the second and fourth being inferences to be drawn from it. However the first position is less closely connected with Antonioni’s expressed intent in view of the following passage quoted from Hollis Alpert:
"The film has been interpreted as a study of corruption among members of a certain group of upper-class Italians. I questioned Antonioni on this, and found that this was not his purpose. 'The people were members of the upper class,' he said, 'because I did not want to explain how they make their living, or why it is that have so much time to do the things they do.'” [1]
At any rate what is most in terest5ing about L’Avventura is the cinematic means with which Antonioni conveys his notions. He is able to convey in purely visual terms some rather abstract ideas about human relationship, and he does so with a succinctness and directness that goes beyond the powers of verbal expression. The principal psychological effect which Antonioni achieves cinematically and around which he is able to build his structure is alienation. I mean this not in the Marxist sense (a source of possible confusion) but in the existential sense. By the appropriate use of sound, pacing, and visual arrangements, Antonioni is able to get across to the viewer an idea which, though fundamental to human consciousness, was not conspicuously present in the film idiom – that a person’s consciousness is continually shifting back and forth between a state of direct involvement with one’s surroundings and a state of self-conscious reflection. The awareness of self and its concomitant reification of the external world has been felt by many to be one of the central problems of 20th century philosophy. For the objectification of external reality enables us to conceptualize and manipulate it, but at the same time the world is devitalized, and we are left alone, isolated, alienated. The state of alienation h as enabled Western man to build the modern world, but it has also left him with a feeling of not being at home in it – he has fallen from grace. Thus it is constant transitions between I-THOU and I-IT relationships, as it were, that figure fundamentally in Antonioni’s mode of expression.

Naturally, the state of alienation is inimical to that of love. Alienation brings along with it greater power of analysis and thus capacity for action. Opposed to this freedom wrought by alienation is the desire to free oneself of responsibility – the desire to merge one’s consciousness and being with that of another human being. This desire to lose one’s identity and merge with another person is not necessarily romantic love, which is a fairly complex and historical idea. For some people it may just be the erotic impulse. But whatever is the true nature of love, it is affected significantly and momentarily in an individual by his relative state of alienation.

Now the first and foremost question concerning a transition in or out of a psychological state of alienation is, what makes it happen? How does it happen who makes it happen? To answer that question necessitates revealing the extent to which one is a mechanical determinist, but there can scarcely be any question that the initial stimuli for such psychological states of mind occur as external events. Thus the surroundings in which one finds oneself can have, as we all have experienced, profound effects on one’s consciousness. Antonioni has take this idea as a starting point for the making of his films. He says that
“in general, I decide upon the outdoor locations before writing the script. . . . There are times too when an idea for a film comes to me from a particular place.” [2]
Thus the arrangement of the environment in an Antonioni films has a direct effect on the action and is not merely a metaphorical reflection of it. Throughout L’Avventura there are landscapes which seem to dominate the individual characters. First there is the barren volcanic island, Lisca Bianca, which sets the stage for Anna’s original disappearance, and by virtues of its harsh conditions, forces Claudia and Sandro to come closer together. Next Claudia and Sandro find themselves alone in a deserted village. The vicious environment of the island has given way to a state of environmental passivity and timelessness. At another point Sandro, wandering through the grand piazza of Noto, looks at the baroque architecture of the bell tower and is reminded of his betrayal of his youthful ideals about architecture. He deliberately knocks over a bottle of ink on a young man’s architectural drawing of the tower, causing a black swath to spread across the drawing. During the ensuing altercation, Sandro looks up to see black row of seminarians filing out of the bell tower. In the final scene, with Claudia’s illusion of love crushed by Sandro’s infidelity, the background to the two principles consists of a church ruins and Mount Aetna in the distance. While these environment can be viewed symbolically, it seems that the composition was intended to engender in the viewer an intuitive feeling for the psychological nuances taking placed within the characters.

Besides linear composition Antonioni effectively uses sound throughout L’Avventura to convey shifts in emotion. Two of the most striking examples are
  • after a difficult night in a hut on th e island, Claudia and Sandro strike up a conversation the becomes progressively more oriented around themselves, when the harsh sound of a motorboat jolts them back to the realization that Anna’s fate remains unresolved, and
  • after their initial encounter of love-making a train whistle is heard bringing them (us) out of their mutual absorption, back into a world of self-awareness.
The most common Antonioni effect is the most difficult to describe. This is the pacing of the length of various shots so that the camera continues to run, after the significant action of the shot has been completed. Our forced observations of the frame drains it of its emotional content and we “pull out” of the shot, so to speak. It should be mentioned that this self-awareness induced in the viewer at these moments introduces an element of boredom. This film would be ultimately boring if we were not subsequently reinvolved in the scenes. As it is, we are frequently forced during the film (as the director consciously intends), and yet the film itself it not boring. The most celebrated use of th is kind of technique occurs in the final sequence of L’Eclisse (Eclipse), wherein the lovers’ meeting place is shown from vari8ous angles and at a various times of the day for the last seven minutes of the film. L’Eclisse also contains perhaps Antonioni’s most explicit depiction of the psychological shift in and out of alienation with the stock market panic scenes.

All of the above effects are used with great subtlety by Antonioni and go into the making of a rich and fascinating motion picture. Especially effective is the continued presence, though progressively less forceful, of the consciousness of Anna long after she has disappeared from the screen. In the end on is left with the feeling that the inevitable transitory nature of love is bound up with the transitory nature of all our thoughts and feelings, that the feeling of loves comes and goes may times during that day, and that, however one may with otherwise, such is what we must accept.

Notes:
  1. Hollis Alpert, The Dreams and the Dreamers, Macmillan, 1962, pp. 189-190.
  2. Michelangelo Antonioni, L’Avventura, Grove Press, 1969, p. 237.

"L’Eclisse" - Michelangelo Antonioni (1962)

L’Eclisse (Eclipse, 1962) was Michelangelo Antonioni’s final installment of what is sometimes said to be his trilogy of alienation, which included L’Avventura (The Adventure, 1960) and La Notte (The Night, 1961). Rather than alienation, though, one might find the common theme to be a pessimistic meditation on the possibility of romantic love in our modern civilization. And with each film in the trilogy, the scope of hopelessness seems progressively more gloomy. L’Avventura examined the ephemerality and inconstancy of love. La Notte looked at how the inevitable breakdown of the romantic narrative makes long-term love in marriage unsustainable. L’Eclisse finally closes the theme with a discouraging look at how difficult it is to begin an authentic loving relationship in the modern age.

In each of the three films, Antonioni defied narrative film conventions by dispensing with a typical story and focussing on the inner turmoil of the principal characters. And in each film the narrative resolution of the relationship conflicts is highly ambiguous – there is no denouement to speak of. But perhaps of the three films, L’Eclisse is the most uncompromising with respect to narrative development. The other two films have some external events that, temporarily at least, seem to drive the action. But L’Eclisse zeroes in on the possibilities, or impossibilities, of love without much stimulus from external events at all. It seems to be a morose reflection on a relationship that has no hope of really coming to fruition. As such the film is alternatively admired or loathed by audiences, depending on their sensitivities to Antonioni’s aesthetics.

The narrative can be structured into about seven sections, though the last three sections are relatively continuous and one could partition them somewhat differently. The overall pace of the film through this narrative is very leisurely, and the principal relationship thread, that between Vittoria and Piero, doesn’t begin until more than halfway through the film.
1. The Breakup with Riccardo (17 minutes)
As with L’Avventura and La Note, L’Eclisse opens with a focus on a character who initiates and seeds the principal issue and then disappears from the rest of the story. In this case that character is Riccardo, the fiancé of Vittoria (Monica Vitti), who is in the process of breaking up with him. Riccardo is a handsome, educated, wealthy, and civilized man who is distraught that Vittoria wants to end their engagement. Almost deadened with a sense of loss, Riccardo appeals to her that he always “wanted to make her happy”. But in the all-night “argument” into which the film initially breaks in on, Vittoria gently, but adamantly, swears that she no longer loves him and has to move on. This opening sequence establishes Vittoria as the romantic seeker who is looking for something ultimately fulfilling out of a romantic relationship.

2. Stock Exchange 1 – the “Bubble” (8 minutes)
Vittoria goes to visit her mother, who is at the stock exchange in Rome and engaged in trading. The market is in the middle of a financial surge, and the hectic trading of the brokers on the exchange floor is an effective metaphorical showcase for what Antonioni presumably perceives as a root cause of romantic alienation: modernism and its economic corollary, capitalism. Later in the film, Vittoria will remark, when asked what she thinks of the stock market, “I still can’t figure out if it’s an office, a market, or a boxing ring.” To highlight the frenetic trading madness, Antonioni portrays the stock exchange traders collectively halting and observing a minute of silence for a recently deceased stockbroker – and the film actually does hold on this moment for a full minute of screen time. The second afterwards, though, the floor erupts again in a frenzy of shouted stock bidding and offering. The tonal and temporal contrast between contemplative, meaningful personal (i.e. authentic) interactions and hurried, distracted inauthentic interactions driven by common culture is something that will pervade the film.

3. Girlfriends (18 minutes)
Vittoria returns to her apartment, and later in the evening a married friend, Anita, shows up. Vittoria, commenting on her breakup with Riccardo, says, “there are times when holding a needle and thread, or a book, . . . or a man – it’s all the same.” They visit another girlfriend recently returned from Kenya, Marta, and the three women engage in girl talk. Fascinated with African exoticism, Vittoria has fun role-playing as an African tribal dancer in front of her friends. But there is also a sense of emptiness in these encounters, a feeling that is effectively enhanced by a shot of Vittoria walking back to her apartment and being distracted by the wind-driven rattling of flag-pole ropes along her walk.

Later, Vittoria takes a ride in a small plane with Anita and her husband. Then she walks about the airfield and stops for a drink at an airport bistro. Vittoria is relaxed and observant of all the new sites and sounds. This reflects a recurrent theme of Antonioni’s: the principal woman is highly observant of the contextual world around her, in contrast with the principal man, who is driven by his own internal plans and narratives, irrespective of his surroundings. It seems to be suggested that these plans and structured personal narratives are cutting us off from connectivity with our natural surroundings, including the people around us.

4. Stock Exchange 2 – the “Crash” (20 minutes)
The story returns to the stock exchange, and the focalization is on Piero, a young stockbroker already seen in the first stock exchange sequence. The market is now in a panic, and the stockbrokers are even more hectic in their struggle to avoid catastrophic losses for their investors. But it is the investors who are taking the risks, not so much the stockbrokers. Vittoria shows up looking for her mother, who is in the process of losing 10 million lire (roughly US$ 16,000 in 1962 and over $ 100,000 now) on the day. Vittoria learns of an older man who has just personally lost 50 million lire, and out of concern for him, she follows him out of the exchange and into a piazza.

At 67 minutes into the film, Vittoria finally meets up with the stockbroker Piero, who will become her new love interest in the story.

5. Vittoria and Piero 1 – First Encounters (15 minutes)
In a series of relatively brief incidents, we learn more about Piero and the budding relationship between Vittoria and Piero
  • Piero accompanies Vittoria out of the stock exchange, looking for Vittoria’s mother, whose apartment they visit. Piero tries to kiss Vittoria, but she turns away.
  • Back at his stock exchange office, where Piero has a junior position as a trader, he is seen to be cocky and arrogant – scornfully dismissing and shooing out of his office personal clients who have just lost their life savings in the crash. Piero then goes out on a date with a pretty brunette, whom he abuses with cocksure arrogance.
  • Piero drives over to Vittoria’s apartment and from the street entreats her at her window to let him come up. With Piero standing outside on the sidewalk, a passing drunk steals his car.
6. Vittoria and Piero 2 – Developing Relationship (30 minutes)
  • The next day Vittoria comes to see Piero’s car being dredged up from the river, where it had crashed the night before, killing the drunk. Vittoria is troubled about the death, but Piero is crassly only concerned about scratches on his car. Then they begin walking down the street and flirting. When they near a street corner, Piero asserts, “when we get there, I’m going to kiss you.” They kiss, but when Piero presses his affections, Vittoria demurs.
  • Back at their respective apartments, Vittoria uncertainly calls Piero’s number, but when she hesitates to speak, Piero impatiently yells into the phone and hangs up.
  • The next day they meet at the corner where they kissed, and they decide to go to Piero’s luxurious apartment. When Piero asks Vittoria what she had done the night before, she says, “why do you ask so many questions? Two people shouldn’t know each other too well if they want to fall in love.”
Their romance develops over the next few days as they engage in more embraces in the park and on a couch in Piero’s office. Vittoria is coquettish and encouraging, but at the same time tentative: at one point Vittoria says to Piero, “I wish I didn’t love you . . . Or that I loved you much more.” They agree to meet that night at 8pm at the “usual place” – the street corner where they had their first kiss. Vittoria leaves the office and goes out onto the street. This is the last we see of Vittoria and Piero in the film.

7. Coda (8 minutes)
The much commented-upon ending to L’Eclisse is something of a coda or epilogue to the work. This section comprises image sequences without dialogue of all the familiar street locations that were important to the evolving relationship of Vittoria and Piero, but without those two principal characters. Occasionally a person is seen from behind who superficially looks like Piero or Vittoria, but who turns out on inspection not to be. As the sequences unwind, time passes: afternoon passes to twilight, and finally to night, as the streets become empty. We see the street corner of their appointed date, but neither Vittoria nor Piero appears. Either those two characters have lost interest in each other, or the film has lost interest in them and pulled back from their focus. Now we see people on the street holding newspapers with headlines about the “nuclear arms race” – issues of global concern but beyond the local horizons of most meaningful interactive contexts. The images finally become more abstract and inhuman at the close, with the final shot focussing on a glaring street light near the corner of the missed appointment.
Although L’Eclisse was perhaps Antonioni’s most uncompromising (to popular film conventions) work, by this time his prestige was so great that the film was nominated for the Cannes Film Festival Palm D’Or. What makes the film interesting is the mood it creates of absence and loneliness. This is highlighted in the last sequence (the “Coda”). The absence of the main characters dominates our perception of that sequence. They are missed, and the activities on the street, without them, seem to be empty and without vitality or meaning. This is the “eclipse”, the original meaning of which term stems from “fail to appear”. Antonioni seems to be morosely suggesting that modern culture has led to an eclipse of the possibilities of love and meaningful interaction. At one point Piero tells the sceptical Vittoria that the financial activities of the stock market get to be a passion once you get to know it. But Vittoria says, “a passions for what, Piero?” To her, as presumably to Antonioni, it is meaningless.

Related to this eclipse of meaningfulness is the decontextualizing of narrative, in general, a subject that I discussed in connection with La Notte. Like Lidia, in La Notte, Vittoria here is always open to new events and appearances that come into view. She is open to the vitality of the external world. But, like Lidia, she lacks a meaningful narrative in this world. The ones offered to her by Riccardo and Piero are ultimately empty to her; they are not really what she is looking for. Throughout the film, Vittoria lapses into artificial play-acting – both with her girlfriends and with Piero. The play-acting is so forced and unnatural that I originally attributed it simply to poor acting on the part of Monica Vitti. But on reflection, it seems to me that this artificiality in her role-playing is what Antonioni wanted to portray. She is trying out roles, such as being a native African dancer with Marta or being a coquette with Piero, but this role-playing lacks substance or meaning – they are not sustainable in a longer narrative that would satisfy her. Thus she found her role with Riccardo was empty and directionless, and any meaningful role in a narrative with Piero would presumably be hopeless, too.

Piero is comfortable in his little roles defined by modernist society, but they are shallow. Although he is generally friendly and not devious, Piero is narcissistic (he is unconcerned about the death of the drunk), arrogant (he abusively breaks up with his old girlfriend), and superficial (mostly concerned about his car). When Vittoria discovers a vulgar pen in his office, she begins to realize that, despite his handsome features, Piero offers no long-term romantic happiness for her.

So with L’Eclisse Antonioni has delivered his most depressing portrayal of the possibilities of romantic love in our modernist, alienating, and dualistic world. The problematic focus has moved from fickleness (L’Avventura), to unsustainability (La Notte), to here in L’Eclisse the seeming impossibility of true love in the first place. But let us not be too pessimistic. Love is not a complete mirage, a fata morgana. We, like Vittoria and Antonioni, sense that it is real, and we must keep looking. It is both out there and within.
★★★½

"La Notte" - Michelangelo Antonioni (1961)

Michelangelo Antonioni followed up his internationally-acclaimed L’Avventura (1960) with La Notte (1961), which further cemented his reputation as an auteur devoted to a philosophical examination of human existence. Indeed La Notte was considered to be part of Antonioni’s “trilogy of alienation”, which included L’Avventura and L’Eclisse (1962). All of these films, including most others in Antonioni’s oeuvre, focus on the internal developments that take place in the minds of the principal characters. The external events portrayed are subordinated to and supportive of this internal narrative, and as a consequence, those external events may seem to be trivial or pointless to the conventional moviegoer. This tension is particularly in evidence with La Notte.

Antonioni’s films often have very accomplished acting performances, but the portrayals are controlled and subdued, not theatrical. In the case of La Notte, Antonioni had two exceptional stars who were at the peaks of their careers, Marcello Mastroianni and Jeanne Moreau, but their performances in this film were so controlled that they did not display the dramatic fireworks that they did elsewhere. In fact it is interesting to compare Mastroianni’s restrained portrayal in La Notte of a reflective individual swamped by upper class superficialities to his more emphatic performance of a somewhat similar character in Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita (1960). For her part, Moreau had relatively recently shot to fame with her dramatic performances in two Louis Malle films, Frantic (Ascenseur Pour L'Échafaud, 1958) and The Lovers (Les Amants, 1958), and would soon star in Francois Truffaut's Jules and Jim (Jules et Jim, 1962), but here, too, like Mastroianni, she is remarkably restrained, almost morose, in fact.

The story of La Notte traces the events over a roughly twenty-four hour period that lead to a marital crisis of a well-to-do married couple in Milan: the successful novelist Giovanni Pontano (Mastroianni) and his wife, Lidia (Moreau). In addition to Giovanni and Lidia, there are two other important characters in the film:
  • Tommaso (played by Austrian actor and film director, Berhnard Wicki), a terminally-ill author-colleague and friend of Giovanni.
  • Valentina Gherardini (played by Antonioni favourite, Monica Vitti), the attractive but spoiled daughter of a wealthy industrialist who attracts the romantic attentions of Giovanni.
The core subject matter of the film essentially comprises the respective mental landscapes of all four of these characters, so I will return to discuss them further below.

The plot moves through four phases, each associated with a specific venue. This is a characteristic of Antonioni, for whom the specific landscape and architectural environment of a scene sets the mood and is a key ingredient to the narrative. The last of these four phases is considerably longer than the others and takes up more than half the running time of the film.
  1. Tommaso’s Bedside. The film opens with the stark, glass-windowed landscape of downtown Milan. Giovanni and Lidia pay an early afternoon visit to their critically ill friend, Tommaso, in the hospital. Tommaso is a fellow writer, but is self-effacing before his more illustrious friend Giovanni. It is later revealed that Giovanni first met Lidia through Tommaso, whose earlier romantic affections for Lidia had been spurned but who had remained her friend. The atmosphere is grim, as everyone tries to think of something pleasant to say in the morbid circumstances. Upon departing and with Lidia already out of the building, Giovanni is accosted by an emotionally disturbed woman patient who wants to have sex with him. Giovanni succumbs to the lustful urge, but nurses intervene before anything gets too far. Afterwards, Giovanni confesses to Lidia, but she expresses (or feigns) indifference.
  2. The Book-signing Party. Then Giovanni and Lidia go to a party dedicated to the publication of Giovanni’s latest book. Giovanni is in his element and enthusiastically greets the Italian literati, including a Nobel Prize winner. Lidia, though, has no interest, and she leaves the party and takes a taxi to an old industrial neighborhood on the outskirts of Milan where she and Giovanni used to live. The architecture here is that of urban decay – again, like the opening scene, an inhuman environment, but one that has been left to deteriorate. She wanders around, observing anything that distracts her, which includes local toughs engaged in a fistfight and a group of boys setting off home-made rockets in a park. Meanwhile Giovanni has returned home, and after getting a phone call from Lidia, he goes to pick her up in his car.
  3. The Nightclub. For their evening, Lidia prefers that they skip a ritzy party they have been invited to and spend some time together. They go to a nightclub, where the floor entertainment is an exotic black dancer who athletically twirls about and assumes gymnastic poses, all the while balancing a wine glass on her forehead. Giovanni is amazed by her provocative contortions, but Lidia is soon bored with it all. Abruptly she decides she wants to go to the ritzy party, after all.
  4. The Lawn Party. Giovanni and Lidia drive up to the estate of the wealthy industrialist, Gherardini, where a large lawn party attended by the privileged classes is well underway. The two soon get separated and involved in their own detached conversational circles, which ultimately devolve into separate romantic entanglements for both of them. Giovanni is attracted to Gherardini’s beautiful, but challenging, daughter, Valentina, and soon they are embracing. Lidia, having spied Giovanni’s defection from afar, then pairs off with a handsome gentleman who takes her away in his car for a tryst. But neither of these two engagements leads to anything, and as the morning light appears after the long night, Giovanni and Lidia finally meet up again and get ready to depart for home. They walk out onto now-vacant grounds, where Lidia takes out a letter she has been keeping in her purse and reads it to Giovanni in sombre tones. The letter is a romantic paean that was once written to Lidia confidently avowing eternal love for her. When Giovanni asks who wrote that letter, Lidia responds that he, himself, had written it to her years ago. Fuelled with painful remorse and renewed passion upon hearing these words, Giovanni embraces her, but Lidia spurns his kisses and swears that their love is dead, as the camera pulls back and pans away from them. The final frame shows an empty park in the early morning mist.
A number of critics have expressed vexation with La Notte and have complained that the film is merely a tedious account of marital boredom and only induces a similar reaction on the part of the audience. But the film is much more than that and is actually rather subtly conceived and executed. The key theme under examination in La Notte concerns the question of what it is that sustains our interests and passions over time. And underlying that question is the nature of narrative. So we could say that this film narrative is about the nature of narrative, itself.

When we are engaged in a project, we are involved in a narrative of some sort. Metaphorically, all narratives are like a journey, with a planned destination and possibly some obstacles to be overcome before arrival at the destination is possible. Since we, ourselves, are the principal players in our own narratives, we are partially co-constructing them as we go. The more autonomy that the narrative structure affords, the more significant is our own role of narrative co-construction. For those who are working in menial tasks and struggling to make ends meet, their narrative co-construction is minimal; but there is always some element of freedom present that enables people to direct their passions towards some goal.

The problem for us in the modern era is that our overriding cultural narratives no longer provide much direction. We are left to construct our own life narratives without much guidance. Antonioni explores aspects of this issue about narrative through his four principal characters.
  • Tommaso. Giovanni’s doomed friend, Tommaso, is introduced right away in order to establish the fundamental issues. Tommaso is a man without a future; there are no possible future narratives for him. Therefore anything he mentions to Giovanni and Lidia, such as his plans for his book, is immediately understood to be pointless. He is a writer who wants to construct narratives, but he cannot construct the most important ones about his own life, which has no future.
  • Giovanni Pontano. Giovanni is a writer who lives in a world of words, concepts, and plans. When he returns to his apartment after the book-signing party, it can be seen that his office is lined with books. He picks up a random document and begins reading. Like today’s inveterate reader of Web pages on the Internet, he lives in the virtual world of words and artificial images. So he is at the opposite end of the spectrum from Tommaso: he is the active agent, busily constructing his own narratives and those for his readers. But at the lawn party, it is revealed that he is losing his artistic motivation. Although he can construct a narrative on the fly, and does so for a woman he meets at the party, he has no interest in writing another book. In fact without his artistic compass, he is now tempted to sell out and take a high-paying job as a public relations shill for the tycoon Gherardini.
  • Lidia Pontano. Lidia is more immersed in the real world, rather than the world of words and plans that fills Giovanni’s life. She is constantly distracted by her surroundings, particularly things that appear in the sky: planes, helicopters, and rockets are continually interrupting her attention and arousing her curiosity. But these distracting moments have no narrative extent or continuation to them. They are short-term events, and she doesn’t become involved in any further narrative development of these happenings. She is more passive than Giovanni and less a co-constructor of her own narratives. But though passive, she is still judgmental.
  • Valentina Gherardini. Valentina occupies a middle ground. She is also reactive to her surroundings, but she is also interested in the world of narrative construction – in fact her reading of the novel The Sleepwalkers is something that Giovanni finds attractive and resonant with his own nature. Significantly, she constructs her own artificial game (a form of narrative) at the lawn party, so she reveals a talent for narrative co-construction. Nevertheless, she is aware of her game’s pointless artificiality. She is looking for something more real. She remarks to Giovanni, “I’m not intelligent; I’m alert....I’m happy to observe things without having to write.”
So Giovanni is too absorbed in his narcissistic and schematic word/planning world and not enough involved in real life. Lidia is immersed in the real world, but needs someone else to invigorate it with meaningful narrative. The nightclub dancer was a perfect illustration of their differences: she was conceptually fascinating to Givoanni but too unreal for Lidia.

At the end of La Notte, Lidia declares to Giovanni that the narrative of their marriage has come to an end. There is no longer any love. But the narrative constructor, Giovanni, refuses to accept this judgement. He swears that he will reconstruct their love. He will strive to revive that narrative, the one that he had helped construct in that love letter long ago. Do we believe that he will succeed? It is hard to have much confidence in that prospect. In love, it takes two to tango, and Lidia no longer believes in Giovanni’s conjurings. She has lost the plot.
★★★