The Passenger (Professione : reporter) (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1975)David Locke (Jack Nicholson) is a television journalist making a documentary film on post-colonial Africa. To finish the film, he is in the Sahara desert seeking to meet with and interview rebel fighters involved in Chad's civil war. Struggling to find rebels to interview, his frustrations reach a climax when his Land Rover gets hopelessly stuck on a sand dune. After a long walk through the desert back to his hotel a thoroughly glum Locke finds that an Englishman by the name of Robertson (Charles Mulvehill), who has also been staying there and with whom he had struck up a friendship, has died overnight in his hotel room.
Like many films by Antonioni, The Passenger isn’t a film about dialogues but moments, mise en scène, and atmosphere. With some of the longest takes from the director, the film is brilliantly shot and the actors are almost props that compose his complex frames. The mystery around Nicholson’s character is never completely cleared and at some point, it doesn’t need to be crystal clear. Almost like a film noir or an Alfred Hitchcock picture, The Passenger brings us into a world where we can doubt about any characters and their own motivations. The change of identity in the first act has been so influential and iconic that it seemed familiar.
Honestly, this is the kind of film that leaves me speechless because it is far from being perfect or a masterpiece. But it carries many elements that as a cinephile I enjoy. The presence of Jack Nicholson as a mysterious man and most of all, a subtle performance from him is always interesting. The fact that the film was made in the 1970’s, one of the most interesting decades of film history. The desert and the European scenes shot wonderfully shot by Luciano Tovoli. Finally, the directing by Antonioni that almost be categorized as foreign but with an American touch that I haven’t really categorized yet that is palpable in almost all of his films.
However, as a whole The Passenger‘s pace can be a little tiresome and its plot lacks in suspense even if Antonioni has never been a master of it. His L’avventura is stronger in plot structure even if more contemplative. Even if it is not as great as his masterpiece, Blow-Up, The Passenger is a sure classic for the ages.