Sunday, June 29, 2008

[Michelangelo Antonioni Retrospective] Professione: Reporter (The Passenger) (1975)

Check It Out

I guess from time to time we've considered the notion of assuming someone else's identity, and wondered what life would be like if we were somebody else. Usually, we adopt from someone we already know of, or perceive to know, and chances are their predicament should be something more positive than what we are experiencing with our current selves. But what if it's someone else whom you have totally no clue who they are, or worse, leading a life that you won't want to touch with a 10 foot pole?

A very young, buff and rugged looking Jack Nicholson stars as the reporter David Locke in Michelangelo Antonioni's Professione: Reporter, and he's the titular character whose reporting career doesn't seem to get anywhere. Stuck in an unwanted assignment somewhere in Africa, he struggles to find some semblance of a life, getting increasingly frustrated with the lack of communication with the locals because of language skills, where the currency of choice happens to be cigarettes, and con-artists and incompetence seem everywhere. Like Antonioni's Le Amiche, he returns to his hotel only to find that the next door guest had passed away. In a moment of opportunity and without much thought, he trades identity with the guest, and in that case, fakes his own death.

So you would expect friends and family members becoming concerned with the circumstances, not that the wife (played by Jenny Runacre) was an angel to begin with, and so begins a wild goose chase where they try and track him down when they realize that there was a possibility of an identity mix up, but more so, why he had wanted to assume another identity. In true Antonioni style, this is not a concern, as we follow in Il Grido fashion where the protagonist runs away from the life behind him, the new life of David Locke as he wanders from point to point, as he slowly learns that his born again life comes with many dangerous strings attached, and becomes romantically involved with an architectural student (Maria Schneider), intriguing her with his supposed links with weapons smugglers, spies and rebel fighters, like Doc Brown who got entangled with Iranians in Back to The Future.

Most of the story was filmed in Barcelona, and having appointments already pre-arranged by his predecessor makes it all the more easy for David to flit from site to site, each time getting a little bit more dangerous than the previous. I guess Jack Nicholson is as Jack Nicholson does, while he gives a relatively more subdued performance than we know what he's capable of, it's still no less than an arresting performance as he brings us on this journey to the big unknown. The much talked about climax which consists of a 7 minute single take remains as enigmatic as it is, which unveils a lot with numerous events happening at the same time, and which can be interpreted either way.

Technically, the first 10 minutes or so of the movie suffered from bad audio which sounded quite airy, and for some documentary like sections, some aspect ratio differences were noticed. But that's just nit-picking on my part. Perhaps one of the more accessible Antonioni movies in his filmography, no doubt made more interesting with Nicholson in the lead, and that payoff right at the end.

The screening concluded with a 12 minute documentary called The Last Sequence of The Passenger, which is a deconstruction of that fascinating sequence none other than Antonioni himself, in an interview. Here, he explains it in a little bit more detail, and shares with the audience how the shot was technically conceived and executed. As if like a DVD commentary, you can't have it any better than this with Antonioni providing the detail required as it is, and the gem is always of course having him bring us through his thought process.

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