Sunday, April 27, 2014

CANON OF FILM: "THE PASSENGER"

THE PASSENGER (1975)

Director: Michelangelo Antonioni
Screenplay: Michelangelo Antonioni, Mark Peploe and Peter Wollen based on the story by Mark Peploe



One of the saddest days in recent cinema history was July 30, 2007, when two of the greatest, most important and most influential European directors, died on the same day.  Arguably the greatest filmmaker ever, Ingmar Bergman died in his home in Sweden at age 89. Among numerous great films, he directed “The Virgin Spring,” “Wild Strawberries,” “Scenes From a Marriage,” “Saraband,” “The Seventh Seal,” “Fanny and Alexander,” and my personal favorite, “Persona”. Than, later, Michelangelo Antonioni died the same day. Along with Federico Fellini, one could argue that two of the three greatest European filmmakers ever had passed. Antonioni loved filming long takes of mostly emptiness, and he loved to use architecture, both manmade and natural as continuing motifs that characters travel through like doors to new thoughts and worlds, and never outwardly reveals the story to the viewers obviously. Everything to him has exceptionally subtle. During a viewing at Cannes of “L’Aventura,” a film that got booed at the premiere, the audience continually yelled, “Cut,” at the screen when a shot ran exceptionally long. Now, that film is considered possibly his best, along with “Blow-Up”. I’ve also admired “L’Eclisse”, although I wasn’t a fan of “Il Grido”; and his work was certainly not as consistent as others  like Bergman, especially with films like the critic-hating “Zabriskie Point”. “The Passenger,” or sometimes called, “Professione: Reporter” was also panned originally, and was actually forgotten and lost for awhile, but starting getting limited re-releases years later, including in America, where it was rediscovered, and clearly now ranks as one of his very best. The movie involves a documentary reporter named David Locke, (Jack Nicholson) who befriends a man named Robertson (Charles Mulvehill) at a hotel in the middle of Africa, where there’s some sort of civil war going on. Then Mulville dies, and Locke, on an apparent whim, decides to switch identities with the man. He knows nothing about him other than a name. He grabs his passports and clothes and briefcase, and moves his body from one room to his. This than begins a journey for Locke, who everyone thinks is now dead, and as his wife Rachel (Jenny Runacre) and producer Martin (Ian Hendry) try to make sense out of the footage that he’s shot (Which was all real footage, including the man burning at the stake), Locke finds himself heading off to, well, basically wherever. He does take a meeting as Robertson in Berlin, where he finds out that the man was a weapons dealer distributing to the leaders of opposition forces. It’s some information, but still very little, and of absolutely no importance anyway. He eventually finds a Girl (Maria Schneider, from “Last Tango in Paris) who for a while travels with him on this journey that seems to have absolutely no guidebook to it, and more importantly, no apparent destination. Schneider’s character isn’t even given a name, and just noted as “Girl,” in the credits. At one point, Locke is almost recognized by someone, which leads to him trying to escape again. But whose is he escaping from, himself? His life? Why did he decide to just switch lives, and what does he think he will gain? These are questions that are addressed, but never really answered. Most theorize that Locke represents humanity and people in general just going from one place to another traveling through life like passengers. I like this theory. I think he saw the dead guy as a chance at rebirth, a fresh start in life, and an attempt to shortcut his way to possible reincarnation, but finds that it doesn’t quite work like that. The famous final shot which is about a 4-6 minutes long shot that starts inside Locke’s hotel room staring at the jail-like bars of the window before zooming in closer and closer, before eventually going through the bars and continuing, and then continuing  still, as the Girl leaves in one car, his wife arrives in another, neither one noticing each other, and then turning back towards the hotel room is one of the most famous shots in film. What does that mean? Antonioni let you question, but he never gave an answer.
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