Michelangelo Antonioni was an Italian film director, screenwriter, editor, painter, and short story author.
Antonioni died on July 30, 2007 (aged 94) in Rome, the same day that another renowned film director, Ingmar Bergman, also died.
He is best known for his “trilogy on modernity and its discontents”—L’Avventura, La Notte, and L’Eclisse from the early sixties.
One “hidden pillar” of the world Antonioni depicts in his movies is that “you are what you read.” This gives the viewer a “meta-intelligent” (latent overview signal) handle on the world being depicted:
In La Notte of 1961, Antonioni starts with an image of the Pirelli Tower in Milano, the most famous skyscraper of its time in Italy. In contrast to the impressiveness of the building, the characters in his movies are trying to “navigate” boredom and the enveloping sense of ennui.
One of the characters in the movie is said to be reading the masterpiece by Herman Broch, The Slkeepwalkers:
The Sleepwalkers (original title Die Schlafwandler), is a 1930s novel in three parts, by the Austrian novelist and essayist Hermann Broch.
Opening in 1888, the first part is built around a young Prussian army officer; the second in 1903 around a Luxembourger bookkeeper; and the third in 1918 around an Alsatian wine dealer. Each is in a sense a sleepwalker, living between vanishing and emerging ethical systems just as the somnambulist exists in a state between sleeping and waking. Together they present a panorama of German society and its progressive deterioration of values that culminated in defeat and collapse at the end of World War I.
Antonioni implies the characters he depicts are a new version of “sleepwalker.”
When the movie starts, the characters played by Marcello Mastroianni and Jeanne Moreau visit a friend in the hospital who mentions his new work on Adorno. Adorno (1903-1969) was a German-Jewish theoretician who wants to understand how the world has gone off the rails leading to WWII and the death factories of the Nazis. He argues that this is connected (paradoxically) to the relentless rationality of “The Enlightenment” and works in a “dialectical” way (i.e., something becomes its opposite).
In the movie, there’s a scene where the author played by Mastroianni is at a book talk concerning his new book.
In other words, the world Antonioni is depicting, a kind of “odyssey” of ennui made confusing by gleaming architecture such as the Pirelli Tower of Nervi (built from 1955-1958) shown in the opening shot of the movie.
The books mentioned in the movie confirm the director’s “you are what you read” motif.
The recent book: The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 by Christopher Clark is consistent with this sense of things.