Yeahhhh, Antonioni lost me with this one.
In a long and nearly-wordless opening scene, Vittoria (Monica Vitti) breaks things off with her fiancé for vague reasons; it’s implied she just isn’t into him any more. But the breakup upsets her enough to want some fussing-over from her Mama (Lilla Brignone). Vittoria heads to Mama’s latest hangout – Rome’s stock market, which Mama treats like a casino, pestering her stockbroker Piero (Alain Delon) with frequent questions. In fact, Mama is so focused on stocks that she’s not really that much comfort to Vittoria.
At least Piero was cute, though. In fact, after a girls’ night evening with some of her neighbors, Vittoria drops by the market again to see him. He’s just as interested in her, and they soon start a relationship themselves. Although…neither one of them really seems into it.
And that’s it.
As with his two prior films, L’Avventura and La Notte, Antonioni is being deliberate with his “nothing really happens” approach; he’s attempting to show the inherent hollowness and meaninglessness of his characters’ lives. The “meaning” is all subtext – La Notte isn’t heartbreaking because there’s something poignant about Lidia meandering around her old neighborhood, it’s heartbreaking because she’s doing that right after visiting a dying friend and that’s probably weighing on her mind. L’Avventura isn’t infuriating because the leads are going to parties, it’s infuriating because they’re going to parties instead of continuing their investigation into a friend’s disappearance.
But with this film, I couldn’t get a handle on what the subtext was supposed to be. It’s implied that it might be something about the dreamy Vittoria being a romantic mismatch with the more flashy and superficial Piero; during one of their meetings, someone steals Piero’s car and crashes as he makes his escape, and Vittoria is surprised to hear that Piero cares more about the damage to his car than about the man who died. Antonioni also spends a lot of time following Piero’s “daily business” in the stock market (a bit too much time for my taste), but almost none with Vittoria’s job; instead, we see Vittoria doing dreamy things like cloud gazing at the airport, people watching out windows, or playing with her neighbors’ dog.
So…these are people who are trying to make a connection but they’re too different, and ultimately it doesn’t work. But – that’s much too common a story to my mind, so I’m left wondering why I was supposed to care about this particular instance of that story. There’s not even a dramatic breakup scene – instead, they make a plan to meet one evening “at our usual spot”, but then – as we see in a seven-minute wordless sequence – neither one shows up, and that’s the end of the film.
That sequence is lovely. It’s all scenic shots, showing the empty streetcorner where they are to meet or focusing on the empty bench where they might sit, or the streetlight winking on as it gets later, or another passersby walking past the fence Vittoria once studied. And had I cared one whit about Vittoria or Piero I might have been touched by that sequence – but I only felt detached.
Speaking of sequences – I should warn 21st century readers that the “Vittoria’s girls’ night” sequence has some bits that have not aged well at all; one of the women is from a colonialist family with property in Kenya, and has some less-than-enlightened things to say about the prospect of Kenyan independence. Plus there’s a bit where Vittoria dresses up in blackface and does “tribal dancing” as a goof until the colonialist friend tells her to knock it off; and honestly, if your blackface is so offensive that even the plantation owner says you’ve gone too far, you’ve really gone too far.