Third time with Antonioni after Blow-Up and La Notte.
Firstly, I’m taking the shot of Vittoria pulling up in a cab, gesticulating at angrily impatient drivers behind to calm down, as a pretty amusing joke on us. It actually helped me settle in.
We begin with V and Riccardo boxed into an apartment. It’s overflowing with furniture and trinkets, introducing the theme of the objectification of people (later, most obviously, V will compare needles, thread, books and men as the often identical). There is a stultifying ennui that foreboded another immured, eventless trudge like the second half of LN, though there is an undercurrent of profounder dissatisfaction – C insists that “there must be a reason”, we try to diagnose where V can’t. Thankfully they quickly take it outside into the pale, empty morning. “I’ve always come with you, why not today?”
Our time is divided between V’s urban perambulations (it felt as if one’s entire world was one, long Sunday afternoon) and the local stock exchange. It’s a bullring of fiery gesticulation and soaring columns like an ancient forum or a temple full of money-lenders. This is the film’s most explicitly political field, but it’s also distinct and strange: we are given equal-length, mid-range shots of people in clear focus, framed by chaotic movement; the effect is less a braying mob in motion than the weird time-dilation of a train station or still photographs of cafes, markets, libraries. It epitomises the MA appeal of spaces that we can sink into and walk around in; the plot threads a quiet route through the movement and the poetically framed images of alienation.
There is a strange scene with V at a neighbour’s: the latter has travelled from her home in Kenya, where she adopts a colonialist perspective (sometimes anthropological, sometimes geographical, sometimes explicitly racist – it’s a nation, in her words, populated by a handful of Oxford elites and a welter of “six million monkeys”. V isn’t happy with this). Africa appears to have been objectified in the same modernist, open-plan world that V is used to (elephant’s feet coffee tables, etc.). V tries (pretty shockingly) to kindle a connection through blacking up and dancing to a record of polyrhythmic drumming. The host isn’t amused and sullenly requests they stop “playing negroes”. I haven’t read much comment on this scene; to me it suggests V’s warped escapism, a singular moment of vitality and animation channeled through a perverted notion of externality – she seems as trapped in her world as Lidia at the bar in LN or Thomas after his epiphany in B-U
..this is suggested in the next scene, which involves a private flight, a ravishing view of Rome by air; but we’re whisked back to the stock exchange. There are poignant moments throughout L’E: the swoop of a plane coming in to land but ducking out (V watching in the foreground in the classic MA framing); a lonely punter drawing flowers on his receipt outside the SE having lost big; V quietly relating that her mother pins much of her misfortunes on the death of her husband, memories of poverty compelling her forward to her own habit of speculation.
V takes up with a new man, Piero, a flashy and impatient young stockbroker. They start with a great movie kiss – over a pedestrian crossing, quiet morning after P’s stolen car had been dredged up from a river, smashed and dangling a hand of the drunkard who’d commandeered it outside V’s house the night before. Much of the rest of the film is scenes from their haunted courtship, moments of imperfect connection like kissing across a window, discomfort on a sofa. They wander – there is so much room to breathe here, none of the patience-testing rigidity and isolation of LN. There is a culminating scene in a dead house, portraits leering and clothing ripping, cut to outside with V framed as the loneliest girl in the world. I loved the split between P among the ringing telephones, V slipping outside and framed against the trees.
They never meet at the appointed time – instead a slideshow of urban scenes from before, faces from before. The Atomic Age on a newspaper, streets empty like a Sebald novel. The architectural structuring of the film is brought home with images of curved lamps, buildings frozen in construction – sculpture, arrangement, and parallax.
This ending, perhaps MA’s defining formal statement, reasserts L’E‘s granite and gallic academic quality; this is lovely analysis that teases out a lot of the visual themes that slip in unnoticed and bloom after consideration. L’E is political and ponderous but also totally elegant. It’s much more engaging than LN, though probably less than B-U. Definitely helped piece the two together.