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THE PASSENGER

Director: MICHELANGELO ANTONIONI

ITALY-FRANCE-U.S.A.-SPAIN • 1975 • COLOUR • 125 MIN


UNSEEN FOR MANY YEARS, ITALIAN MAESTRO MICHELANGELO ANTONIONI’S 1975 MASTERWORK IS NOW REISSUED IN A RESTORED DIRECTOR’S CUT.
This is the third—and many would argue the greatest—in a loose trilogy of English language films Antonioni made for M.G.M., the others being Blow Up (1967) and Zabriskie Point (1969). In each, Antonioni provides his very personal take on the political mood of the time and its affects on his characters. The real concern of these films is not so much radical politics as the sense of unease and estrangement experienced by the central characters. Antonioni was the director who made alienation a fashionable theme in the 1960s. More importantly, he gave it a palpable visual form, the very positioning of the camera making each shot an eloquent comment on the tension between protagonist and environment.
In The Passenger, Jack Nicholson plays a TV journalist who’s covering a guerrilla war in North Africa. Feeling frustrated in both his private and professional lives, Nicholson impulsively steals the passport of a fellow hotel guest who has suddenly died. Following the dead man’s itinerary, he travels through Europe in the company of a young woman (Maria Schneider) he picks up, with both his English wife and some sinister associates of the dead man (a gun-runner) in pursuit. This scenario could have made for a suspenseful political thriller, but Antonioni develops it into much more abstract territory. Everything he has to say finds perfect formal expression in the film’s justly famous last shot, a seven-minute unbroken take that’s every bit as memorable as anything by Hitchcock or Welles.—Peter Walsh.

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