One of his most sumptuously shot pictures, Michelangelo Antonioni’s The Passenger has been crying out for a Blu-Ray release for as long as the medium’s been in existence
Jack Nicholson’s David Locke is a television reporter struggling to finish a documentary on the Chadian civil war, and the slow-burn of Michelangelo Antonioni's film’s opening act reflects his increasing disillusionment. When David Robertson, a mysterious fellow hotel guest played by Charles Mulvehill, dies suddenly, Locke assumes his identity and follows the dead man’s appointment book across Europe – only to find himself out of his depth when he realises that Robertson was an arms dealer, supplying the same rebels that Locke was finding it so difficult to track down and interview.
From there, The Passenger's narrative subtly shifts shape as Locke tries to simultaneously outrun his past life and ward off his fascination with Robertson. The latter half of the film increasingly develops into a game of cat-and-mouse as he and Maria Schneider’s unnamed love interest attempt to evade Locke’s family, Robertson’s clients and the Spanish police. It’s once the action reaches Barcelona and the surrounding areas that Luciano Tovoli’s cinematography truly blooms, from Gaudí’s architecture being done lush justice to the desolation of the sunset-lit dust roads on the city's outskirts.
They’re a fitting backdrop for an unusually restrained turn from Nicholson, who is a symphony in alienation throughout; Schneider’s girlish innocence, meanwhile, belies the suggestion that her character has a much firmer handle on existential matters than Locke does. Antonioni completists have hankered after this release for a while, but now wouldn’t be a bad time for a wider audience to revisit The Passenger – a languid, open-ended and quietly devastating study of isolation and identity.
Brief new interviews with actors Jenny Runacre and Steven Berkoff are a nice addition, but both of the real extra treats come in relation to the movie’s penultimate scene, an apparently physics-defying tracking shot that unfurls hypnotically over seven minutes; look out for both Nicholson’s recollections of the process behind it on his laid-back commentary, as well as a featurette in which the director himself breaks it down. [Joe Goggins]
Released by Indicator