Saturday, December 20, 2008

THE PASSENGER (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1975, USA) The Girl becomes witness to a middle-aged man’s crisis as he virtually disappears into the stark desert air; she becomes the passenger unable to un-Locke his identity and purpose. Michelangelo Antonioni structures the film with an emotional complexity and stunningly languid visuals; a self-reflexive narrative that exists within David Locke’s intuitive and hastily extemporized perceptions. The plot is rather mundane as Locke assumes the identity of a dead acquaintance named Robertson and leaves his entire life behind him, his only goal forward momentum on a road to nowhere. He begins to live Robertson’s life through the deceased’s diary, picking up papers from a Munich locker and keeping scheduled meetings. He is soon pursued by gunrunners, foreign assassins, and his own past while racing towards an inevitable nexus of these disparate elements. He is accompanied by a nameless companion, a beautiful girl met serendipitously, who attempts o understand his malaise, to guide him towards salvation, but she is ultimately powerless; Locke steers his Mercury towards his own cruel destination. Antonioni films in long breathtaking vignettes, each shot embracing the characters and peering into the abyss of Locke’s soul, revealing the stark banality of human nature: sometimes we don’t understand ourselves, we can’t explain our own actions, we just act without premeditation. The fatal climax is a seven minute tracking shot: it begins with Locke meditatively resting on a bed awaiting his final meeting as Robertson as the camera slowly tracks through the window’s iron bars to the dusty courtyard, then slowly back again as we follow the girl, Locke’s wife and police back into the room where he has been murdered. This is one of the greatest shots in cinematic history and should be studied for its technical achievement and sublime mise-en-scene. Locke’s wife, who has finally discovered the deception, speaks the truth: she doesn’t recognize this dead man. (A)

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