I would argue, rather, that women are both the centre of the film and the mirrors upon which Antonioni reflects his dark perceptions and stark conclusions about the human condition. At a launch party for his latest novel, those who celebrate Giovanni’s newest book spend precious little time actually reading, opting instead to party all night, while simultaneously remaining oblivious to their own mortality.
As in most of his films, Antonioni’s wealthy protagonists in La notte live in a hell of their own making. So thoroughly alienated are they from one another (and from the environment) that they experience the rain from the sky (in the pool sequence) as a sublime rapture from above, giggling like schoolchildren, briefly lifted out of their stupor for a moment’s play with the actual elements.
The tragedy of Antonioni’s characters is not simply a matter of bored bourgeois ennui; these people are disconnected from the feminine, from the earth, and from life itself. Perhaps no critic got it more wrong than Pauline Kael in her infamous essay “The Come-Dressed-As-the-Sick-Soul-of-Europe Parties: La Notte, Last Year at Marienbad, La Dolce Vita,” in which Kael attacked the film, demanding less ambiguity:
La notte is supposed to be a study in the failure of communication, but what new perceptions of this problem do we get by watching people on the screen who can’t communicate if we are never given any insight into what they could have to say if they could talk to each other? (2)
On the contrary, Antonioni gives us nothing but insight into the various relationships, and thus I find her dismissal baffling. More recently, critic Christopher Sharrett takes a far more perceptive feminist eco-critical approach to key Antonioni films such as Il deserto rosso (Red Desert, 1964) and L’eclisse (1961), noting of L’eclisse that “the failure of people to connect is rooted less in vague existential dread than in concrete social realities”. (3) For me, it is those specific social realities that are most vividly explored and exposed in La notte.