Antonioni’s La Notte – memory & relics of the past

The other day in Cinema Studies we watched clips from Antonioni’s La Notte. I was moved by the sense of urban malaise but what really struck a chord was the last scene at the golf course with Lidia & Giovanni. The married couple realize for a moment that they’re not happy – both as individuals or together – and maybe at the breaking point of their relationship.

Then Lidia pulls out an old love letter and reads it to her husband:

“When I awoke this morning you were still asleep…beyond your face I saw a pure, beautiful vision, showing us in the perspective of my whole life. All the years to come, even all the years past. That was the most miraculous thing; to feel, for the first time, that you had always been mine; that this night would go on forever, united with your warmth, your thought, your will…at that moment I realized how much I loved you…”

Giovanni asks who wrote it – she tells him he did. He can’t remember doing that. He can’t remember loving her so tremendously.

But he embraces and kisses her forcefully, going through the motions to rekindle the love between them. His uncertainty has been muffled by this relic of the past that proves they were once happy.

Or does it?

It was very interesting to me that in this moment of shared self-awareness on the golf course, when they’re not distracted by anyone or anything else they have no choice but to finally talk about their malaise. But a forgotten memory, a forgotten emotion, the old letter, forces them back into their roles as dissatisfied wife and husband. Was the flowery and poetic letter proof of genuine love or simply a portrait of a younger Giovanni, a crafty writer, momentarily taken over by his emotions?

We’ll never know.


3 thoughts on “Antonioni’s La Notte – memory & relics of the past

  1. Really like the post. Some good insights. As I was reading, it occurred to me that the documentation of such passing emotions is a rather strange act, in that it is accompanied by an urge to “mummify” the moment. From that angle, it’s almost as if Giovanni knew he might need to remind himself of that moment later down the road. In other words, if he is so convinced in that moment of his unshakable and timeless love…then why record it if it is to remain unchanged? Of course, he’s a writer. He wants to communicate what he feels. But the letter as a “relic,” takes on a haunting quality. His ecstasy, as written evidence, ends up condemning him. What was an attempt to arrest memory, to hold on to something that cannot be held, ends up becoming his evidence against him, against the very impulses he wrote about so beautifully many years before. Taken to the level of “why we write,” it’s almost as if we foresee our own failure to remember what we’ve learned. By documenting, we prepare for inevitable loss.

  2. Thanks for the comments. Let me respond by first saying I should probably see the entire film before trying make any insights but you’ve triggered some ideas I can’t help but jot down, just like Giovanni, before i forget them –

    First, I was curious as to the difference between the definitions of ‘relic’ versus ‘mummify’ so I took out my trusty dictionary:

    relic: (n) an object surviving from an earlier time, esp. one of historical or sentimental interest.

    mummify: (v) preserve (a body) by embalming it and wrapping it in cloth

    ‘Mummify’ connotes a certain care and ritualized process to preserving a living thing once of value; something you want to last forever as if it could never die.

    In the case of the Egyptians: the Pharoahs – ‘the Living-Gods’.

    In the case of a writer like Giovanni: an emotion of utmost purity and value that trumps anything else in the world, such as ‘love’.

    A ‘relic’ is something that’s accidentally survived the past. But Lidia hasn’t been accidentally holding onto the letter – she’s been safekeeping it for years because it’s probably the best representation of the man she fell in love with but who she now knows no longer exists – the main exhibit in their ‘marriage-museum’.

    Giovanni on the other hand has refound a thing of such all-consuming vitality to align towards, like a distant mecca – his love for her – and given him and their relationship meaning again – despite the possibility that the ‘god’ & ‘message’ are false.

    Second, connecting this discussion to Antonioni’s later film ‘Blowup’, I think the director is constantly raising this concern about the innate flaws in any form of recording & communication.

    The flaws are not inherent in the tool itself, as guns by themselves do not kill people (people kill people), but that our process of recording thought & emotion and then projecting them to one another is imprecise, skewed and doesn’t reflect the most important fact that thought & emotion, even memories of thought & emotion, are constantly in flux – the letter was not a summation of his love, but an emotional moment; we don’t know what he actually felt the day before or after that wonderful night together.

  3. Pingback: Vinterberg’s “The Celebration” – more on the ‘power of relics’ « Kasem Kharsa's Blog:

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