Tuesday, 13 February 2007

Professione: Reporter (Italy/France/Spain/US, 1975, Michaelangelo Antonioni)

“What are you running away from?”

David Locke (Jack Nicholson) is a successful documentary film maker covering the civil war in an unnamed North African country, but his professional and personal lives are undergoing crises. Shown footage of the documentaries he has made, we learn that he makes uncontroversial productions, interviewing despots who give vague and evasive answers to his questions (when the despot of the same unnamed country underestimates the strength of the rebel forces, his wife asks why he didn’t call him “a liar”). His marriage back home is finished, with clues concerning his wife’s infidelity. Plagued with self-doubt when his current assignment leaves him stranded in the desert, he returns to his hotel room to find the guest next door dead. This man (Robertson) bears an uncanny likeness to Locke, which presents Locke with the opportunity to pass himself off as dead and assume Robertson’s identity. Robertson however is a gun runner; supplying arms to the same rebels he was looking for at the start of the film, which places his life in great danger.

Much like John Frankenheimer’s ‘Seconds’ (1966), Professione: Reporter considers the journey of a protagonist who, having made such a mess of things, wishes for a second chance, and has no idea where to start when he gets his wish, and finds that things are no better second time around. Locke finds his new found freedom just as alienating as his life stuck in the North African desert. Pursued by his ex-wife and colleague and various thugs, he finds himself travelling from country to country with the mysterious ‘girl’ (Maria Schneider) he has picked up. Little is obviously told to us about the ‘girl’, but several suggestions are made to make us think she is his wife, Daisy – she appears in all the cities he is due to meet her in (London, Munich) and that she also books herself into a hotel room as Robertson’s wife. Even less obvious is her betrayal of him at the film’s dénouement, when she leads the pursuing thugs to their hotel room.

And speaking of the film’s dénouement, Antonioni ends with a stunning, unbroken seven minute tracking shot that follows the girl’s betrayal and Locke’s apparent death. Just prior to this, we see a zoom to the bars on the hotel room window, which gives a cell-like effect, giving some impression of the predicament in which Locke finds himself; that he is in a prison of his own making. Apparently Antonioni had the hotel specially constructed for the purposes of this tracking shot, which could be taken apart where necessary to allow the camera to move so freely. It is rightly considered one of the greatest technical achievements in film. There is much ambiguity about what actually takes place during this scene, but it is likely that one of the two thugs (who can be seen in the glass on the window) assassinates Locke. What we imagined to be the backfire from a passing car is actually the gunshot that kills him. Interestingly, Locke ‘dies’ in precisely the same position in which he found Robertson dead. When his wife arrives, she is asked whether she recognised him, to which she responds “I never knew him”. Asked the same question, the girl simply replies “Yes”.

Before he dies, Locke tells the story of a blind man who regained his sight. The parable mirrors his circumstances. At first the man was elated, but everything seemed to change, and he later killed himself realising the world was a filthy place. At this point Locke finally concludes that his new identity is not what he imagined it would be, and that freedom is too abstract a concept to be found just by changing identity. Technically stunning, beautifully shot, and favouring important themes over narrative, the re-discovery of ‘Professione: Reporter’ after decades of neglect is very welcome.

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