Modernist Master: Our Review Of ‘The Passenger’

Posted in Movies, Retrospective, Theatrical by - July 04, 2018
Modernist Master: Our Review Of ‘The Passenger’

Identity and relationships are tenuous in Antonioni’s movies, and that is especially true in The Passenger. Jack Nicholson plays David Locke, a journalist. He’s in an ex-French colony in Northern Africa, reporting about the wars happening there. A trip to the desert fails to accomplish anything. He returns to a hotel that he shares with a businessman, Robertson (Charles Mulvehill). When he finds Robertson dead, he does something unconventional, something worth making a movie about. He switches identities with Robertson. The first assumption that the audience has is that Locke wants to begin anew. However, the film hints at reasons as to why he makes the switch.

And of course, there are complications. Locke traces the steps that Robertson would have taken had he been alive. He goes through the latter’s date books and showing up for meeting that no one else shows up for. This, by the way, makes no sense unless he’s investigating Robertson. And while he does that, a woman without a name (Maria Schneider) keeps popping up. The woman in London and in Barcelona. She tells him that she’s an architecture student and Gaudi fan who strayed from her tour group. She tags along with Locke as the tries to keep the people from his past off his tail.

Of course, it won’t be that easy. Antonioni is a statesman in comparison to other Italian or Italian-American working filmmakers in the 70’s. They were all reckoning from the side effects of sociopolitical phenomenon generations or even centuries in the making. Modernity, urbanization, religion. His pet themes for The Passsenger are colonization and race. The white privilege is strong on Locke. However, the movie ensures that we see how conspicuous he and Robertson are within their landscapes. Past generations saw ex-colonies as places to disappear. But Locke realizes the difficulties in embarking on a new identity. Especially since its citizens are acting on their freedoms too.

In telling this story like most of his other stories, Antonioni plays with genre. The retrospective proves this, as so far we’ve seen solution-less mysteries, sleek moral romances, and eco dramas. This movie fits in with the first category. Might I suggest that this film is also a comedy. It has one of the funniest car chase scenes in cinematic history, if not ever. Again, there’s an inherent ridiculousness in running that’s more apparent here than in Antonioni’s previous work. He makes Barcelona beautiful but claustrophobic, adding to the physicality in the characters’ movements. Besides, Nicholson has an gift in playing duplicitous roles, adding to the humour.

This is also basically L’Avventura, a travelogue that seems to have one purpose but digressions pop up. Antonioni shows us that characters don’t always have the same motivations. This ambivalence within many humans is more common that we would like to believe. And that it’s also a trap. He works with a bigger canvas here, not just showing three locations but four. Locke goes to Munich between London and Barcelona. My only frustration at times is that he’s treading the same ground but in places where it can get unwieldy. And how can an audience really sympathize with a characters with no motivations for more than once?

Modernist Master: The Films of Michelangelo Antonioni retrospective runs at the TIFF Bell Lightbox through Sat Jul 21st.  You can visit there site right here for more details and ticket information

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While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watches movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you're working.
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