Director: Michelangelo Antonioni
Cast: Jack Nicholson, Maria Schneider
The re-release of Master Michelangelo Antonioni’s major work THE PASSENGER makes a timely welcome in a year of relatively few art films. THE PASSENGER deals with both contrasting issues of the boredom of life and the beauty of art as in nature. The story concerns a burnt-out reporter, David Locke (Jack Nicholson in his prime youthful form) fed up with work and marriage life. When on a personal mission to make a documentary on freedom fighters in North Africa, he comes across a dead man in a hotel room. Seizing the opportunity for certain adventure, he assumes the new identity, swapping photographs in the passports. It turns out that the man is a gun-runner for the rebels. Co-written by political correspondent Peter Wollen and by Mark Peploe, the film has a realistic ring to it. The script is sparse in dialogue yet rich enough to allow director Antonioni to impress viewers with his art.
Particularly handsomely photographed are the starting sequences depicting barren sandy deserts of Africa. Hardly any dialogue is heard on the soundtrack but the sounds of footsteps, water and cigarettes flashed out by David Locke are distinct to create a mystical effect. At an odd point in the film – after a close call with the police, the girl (Maria Schneider) who has taken a fancy to David remarks: “Isn’t this place beautiful?” to which he remarks, irritatingly (as the car is leaking oil) that the statement is so true. Despite the visual aspects of the film, spiritual arguments – the spill of a blind man who has unhappily gained his sight – are injected at various points. Peculiar too are two homo-erotic sequences when bare-bodied Locke lifts the semi-nude corpse to another bed and when the two face each other very closely.
Though the film sags a bit in the middle, THE PASSENGER is still a major feast for the eyes and solid appetizer for the spirit. The final 7-minute sequence done with one take in David’s hotel room, seen through the window bars, is masterly executed and is in itself worth the price of the film’s admission.