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Existential Terror: The Essence of Film Noir?

Metropolitain02 Existential Terror: The Essence of Film Noir?

Metropolitain (France 1939)

Film critic Jonathon Rosenbaum in this quote is speaking of cinema generally and referring to a particular a movie that is not a film noir, but to me Rosenbaum has refined the essence of noir from an image redolent of  film noir streetscapes  [my emphasis]:

In the final scene of ECLIPSE (1962)my favorite Antonioni feature, and the one that concludes the loose trilogy started by L’AVVENTURA and LA NOTTE a lingering over an urban street corner while night begins to fall, effected through montage rather than an extended take, becomes one of the most terrifying poems in modern cinema simply through its complex poetry of absence. The lead couple in this film, played by Alain Delon and Monica Vitti, have previously planned to meet at this corner, in front of a building site. (Another building site figures in the opening sequence of L’AVVENTURA.) The unexplained fact that neither character shows up is perturbing, but because their affair has been more frivolous that serious, it hardly accounts for the overall feeling of desolation and even terror in this sequence.

It’s almost as if Antonioni has extracted the essence of the everyday street life that serves as background throughout the picture, and once we’re presented with this essence in its undiluted form, it suddenly threatens and oppresses us. The implication here (and in every Antonioni narrative) is that behind every story there’s a place and an absence, a mystery and a profound uncertainty, waiting like a vampire at every moment to emerge and take over, to stop the story dead in its tracks. And if we combine this place and absence, this mystery and uncertainty into a single, irreducible entity, what we have is the modern world itself the place where all of us live, and which most stories are designed to protect us from.

Jonathon Rosenbaum – Chicago Reader, 9 April 1993

 

1 Comment

  1. “It’s almost as if Antonioni has extracted the essence of the everyday street life that serves as background throughout the picture, and once we’re presented with this essence in its undiluted form, it suddenly threatens and oppresses us.”

    And these are elements of noir that have shaped it even before Antonioni broke on the scene with his existential slant. But noir and existentialism have a natural kinship, just as Antonioni’s cinema overlaps in several instances, including this one. I am also a very big fan of L’ECLIPSE.

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