I first saw Michelangelo Antonioni’s film La Notte my senior year of high school, at an Italian restaurant in Dallas. They were playing it on mute on two small TVs at the bar, but with the subtitles on. Acting as a sort of last addition of a “trilogy” (following L’avventura and L’eclisse), La Notte is about a middle-aged married couple – Giovanni, a successful writer, and his wife, Lidia – who go to visit their dying friend. Along this journey, they simultaneously try to escape and mend their bored, broken marriage. The final scene is what stands out most in my memory, what really caught my attention. After a night of partying and flirting with other people, Giovanni and Lidia take a walk. They struggle to come to terms with the state of their relationship and how they feel for one another. Lidia takes out an old love letter from her purse and reads it aloud:
“When I awoke this morning, you were still asleep. As I awoke I heard your gentle breathing. I saw your closed eyes beneath wisps of stray hair and I was deeply moved. I wanted to cry out, to wake you, but you slept so deeply, so soundly. In the half light your skin glowed with life so warm and sweet. I wanted to kiss it, but I was afraid to wake you. I was afraid of you awake in my arms again. Instead, I wanted something no one could take from me, mine alone…this eternal image of you. Beyond your face I saw a pure, beautiful vision showing us in the perspective of my whole life…all the years to come, even all the years past. That was the most miraculous thing: to feel for the first time that you had always been mine, that this night would go on forever, united with your warmth, your thought, your will. At that moment I realized how much I loved you, Lidia. I wept with the intensity of the emotion, for I felt that this must never end, we would remain like this forever, not only close, but belonging to each other in a way that nothing ever destroy, except the apathy of habit, the only threat. Then you wakened and, smiling you put your arms around me, kissed me, and I felt there was nothing to fear. We would always be as we were at that moment, bound by stronger ties than time and habit.”
Giovanni sits and listens thoughtfully, and when she finishes reading, he asks: “Who wrote that?” She replies after a moment, “You did.”
I think about this scene whenever I’m having a particularly long period of writer’s block or self-doubt. Giovanni did not remember writing such a poetically beautiful and heartfelt letter to Lidia, nor did he remember that he had ever loved her in such a way. When he asks, “Who wrote that?”, to me it symbolizes both a man who’s lost his way in his marriage, as well as a writer who’s lost his passion. But Lidia read the letter aloud and reminded him. And like Giovanni, I am reminded of deep-rooted sentiments and the capabilities of a past self, and I start to believe that maybe this lapse was only temporary, that it can all be restored once again.