If you haven’t seen or heard of Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1975 thriller The Passenger – then you are in for a treat thanks to the new Indicator Blu-ray courtesy of Powerhouse Films.
Alienation of man in the modern world and lost identities were key themes in the film canon of Michelangelo Antonioni, who was a master manipulator of the conventional narrative. Just witness his 1960s quartet, La Notte, L’Eclisse, L’avventura and il deserto rosso, and his hip cult hit Blow-Up.
After a dalliance with the American counterculture movement in 1970s Zabriskie Point, the Italian auteur returned to his favourite themes for The Passenger, his third film with producer Carlo Ponti. Unfortunately, it died a death at the box office and quickly went out of circulation for many decades, until a re-release back in 2005, which has resulted in a growing new appreciation for this hidden gem.
This is the first time that the film has been released on Blu-ray in the UK, and the re-master is a knockout! Now, I absolutely adore Antonioni’s eye for the visual. Every shot is framed with a painterly approach, and he really knows how to use landscape and architecture as character.
The Passenger is no exception. Just take a look at the above screen grab. This was taken from a scene shot in a specially-built hotel in the Almeria town of Vera (standing in for Osuna in the film). The way the light falls on the straight lines of the interior just makes me swoon. The art decoration is by Piero Poletto (who also worked on L’Eclisse and L’avventura), while the camerawork is courtesy of Lucian Tovoli, who’d famously go onto lens Dario Argento’s Suspiria two years later.
Tovoli makes great use of some stunning Spanish locations and especially some iconic modernist buildings, including Antoni Gaudi’s La Pedrera and Parc Guell in Barcelona, and Patrick Hodgkinson’s modernist Brunswick Centre in London’s Bloomsbury (which had opened just a couple of years before the film was made).
But the stand-out scene is a seven-minute long tacking shot right at the end of the movie – and it is worth the wait as it was a major technical achievement at the time, that required the camera to move through a door barred with grates, then do a 180 degree turn and return back to the hotel interior. Of course, it could all be done with CGI today, but here Antonioni is at his most inventive and meticulous.
Typical of the director, the story is real head-spinner. Jack Nicholson plays world-weary journalist David Locke, who is making a documentary in Chad when he impulsively takes on the identity of a man called Robertson, whom he finds dead in his hotel room. He sees it as a chance to escape his old life and his wayward wife Rachel (The Final Programme‘s Jenny Runacre).
But he gets more than he bargained for when it turns out Robertson was a shady arms dealer and rashly takes a bundle of cash from gun-runners who want their merchandise. And Locke’s problems don’t stop there, as Rachel wants answers about his death and a cat and mouse situation ensues as Locke tries to flee the country aided by a young architecture student (Maria Schneider of Last Tango in Paris fame)…
This Blu-ray release of Antonioni’s arty road movie-cum-thriller is probably my favourite find of 2018 so far. It is also Jack Nicholson’s favourite film – so much so, he owns a personal print of the film.
Powerhouse Films’ Indicator UK Blu-ray release features a high definition remaster with the original mono audio and new and improved English subtitles, and the following special features…
• Alternative presentation: Italian Professione
• Audio commentary with actor Jack Nicholson (2006)
• Audio commentary with screenwriter Mark Peploe and journalist Aurora Irvine (2006)
• Audio commentary with film historian Adrian Martin (2018)
• Jenny Runacre on The Passenger (2018, 15 mins)
• Steven Berkoff on The Passenger (2018, 11 mins)
• Profession Reporter (1975, 5 mins): archival interview with Michelangelo Antonioni at Cannes Film Festival
• Antonioni on Cinema (1975, 5 mins): the acclaimed filmmaker on his philosophy of cinema
• The Final Sequence (1985, 13 mins): Antonioni analyses the climactic sequence
• Original theatrical trailer
• Collector’s booklet with a new essay by Amy Simmons