Saturday, June 17, 2006

THE PASSENGER/PROFESSIONE REPORTER - a film to admire rather than enjoy

THE PASSENGER was originally released in 1975. It is an iconic piece of cinema, directed by Italian master Michelangelo Antonioni and starring Jack Nicholson and Maria Schneider. Antonioni is probably best known for BLOW-UP. BLOW-UP is a truly remarkable movie because it manages to combine populism, entertainment and serious philosophical inquiry. Populism comes in the form of its portrait of a decadent fashion photographer who shags hot chicks and snaps Vanessa Redgrave topless. Entertainment comes in the form of a thriller. He takes some pictures in a park and as he develops them believes that he has captured a murder on film. Philosophy because the more he blows up these frames, the less he can see - questioning the nature of reality and perception. (Not to mention some bizarre mime artists running around London in a pick-up truck....)

THE PASSENGER attempts to combine all three facets once more. After all, by casting Jack Nicholson and Maria Schneider (notorious after her appearance with Marlon Brando in LAST TANGO IN PARIS) the crowds would be drawn. There is also a certain thriller element. Nicholson plays a tele-journalist called Locke who is investigating an insurgency in a North African state, although he never seems to be able to get to the action. One day, he returns to his hotel to find the man in the next room - Peterson - dead on the bed. Almost as a spontaneous reaction, Locke decides to assume this man's character. It turns out that he has assumed the personality, passport and diary of an arms dealer. While once frustrated that he could not get near enough to cover the insurgency, Locke is now trafficking arms to it! Having taken money for a delivery of weapons he cannot possibly deliver, Locke/Peterson goes on the run from the middle-men, in the company of the Maria Schneider character - a vivacious student he has met by chance. Will they catch him? With what consequences? The philosophy comes in the form of a variety of discussions on the nature of identity and the possibility of reportage. In a chilling interview with the president of the African state, we see the president tells Locke that the interview is essentially futile. The questions say more about Western journalism than the answers say about Africa.

On paper, this sounds like my ideal movie - beautiful people; tense, dramatic situations; serious discussion of fascinating topics. However, I found that the movie lost my interest around half way through. Perhaps it was the lack of pace or the inevitability of the outcome, which nullified the thriller aspect. Perhaps it was the, for me, lack of apparent chemistry between Schneider and Nicholson that nullified the superficial entertainment. But, actually I think it was the rather depressing philosophical material. It is not nessecarily the case that a movie with such nihilistic content should be alienating, and yet somehow it was. A tremendous shame. So, overall, while THE PASSENGER is a must-see for all serious fans of cinema, it is a film I admired rather than enjoyed.

THE PASSENGER is currently on re-release in the UK to coincide with the DVD release.

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