A tangible veil of darkness has settled upon the marriage of Giovanni and Lidia like a dying friend, or a long slow descent into the glass labyrinth haunted by the ghosts of love and despair. Lidia has become trapped in a loveless marriage and wanders the lonely echoing streets of Milan, tiny and lost amid the mirrored buildings and crumbling blank walls.
The minimalist soundtrack heightens this angst as the city exhales it noxious fumes, it voice a harsh tremulous curse as Lidia regurgitates her past, hopeless and afraid. Giovanni grasps at the madness of his art, his lust pronounced by the insane embrace of a mental patient, his future invisibly written on the tabula rasa of the hospital room’s wall; a perpetrator of emotional infidelity that goes unpunished. The two drift apart and in that long dreary night of apathy, they both discover these secret truths like a beautiful lost ruby whose value is monetary but remains empty of all worth. Giovanni believes that he still loves his wife but feels the cold vacuum of space separating them, too self-involved to understand while he chases his raven-haired dream, stumbling like a sleepwalker through the slick wet night.
Giovanni is a writer seemingly more in love with the idea of being a writer than in the actual craft. He attends parties and enjoys the attention but is still not successful enough to be able to support himself without Lidia’s wealth. Lidia may not only be Giovanni’s wife and muse but the actual creator of the books that her husband takes credit for. Giovanni’s marital struggles are then more malignant than they seem, a man who wants to possess but is he himself possessed, a castrated fraud in search of inspiration. When Giovanni is offered a high-paying job from the party’s wealthy host, Lidia recognizes this as a potential “out” for him, a way to become independent from her. But Giovanni chooses to fall back into her arms, to be taken care of by Lidia. This frisson works on many different levels as she may love him, trying to support him but eventually becoming slave to his career (not hers) and purged of all respect for what he has become.
Michelangelo Antonioni has created another masterpiece of emotional dissolution and disillusionment; this discomfort is technically sublime, employing stark black and white cinematography, deep focus long takes, and steady tracking shots that diminish the characters amid society’s rigid steel framework. Lidia and Giovanni don’t hate each other; on the contrary, they care very much for one another but she has drifted away and must become herself once again, to redefine her identity as Lidia…not Giovanni’s wife. They are caught in a sand trap, and like victims caught in quicksand grasp at each other for their immediate survival. Antonioni lets the camera float away to a jazz score as the couple disappears, seemingly to sink beneath the weight of their own embrace.
Final Grade: (B+)