“I used to be somebody else, but I traded him in,” says television journalist David Locke (Jack Nicholson) when he meets a mysterious young woman (Maria Schneider). Indeed, while working on assignment in northern Africa, the frustrated Locke jumped at the chance to start a new life by assuming the identity of a dead man who shares a physical resemblance. After returning to England, Locke discovers that Robertson is a criminal arms dealer who has several dangerous appointments to keep. Tension mounts as Locke travels across several countries to keep those appointments, while Locke’s wife desperately tries to find out what happened to her husband by following “Robertson,” whom she believes is the last to have seen him alive.
One of Michelangelo Antonioni’s most visually poetic works, The Passenger has developed a steady following over the years and was recently restored and theatrically re-released. Antonioni’s steady, often dialogue-free style of using long tableau shots with multi-layered visual significance is perfectly realized by Luciano Tovoli, ASC, AIC (Bread and Chocolate, Suspiria, Titus). Precisely in sync with Antonioni, the cinematographer crafted a dense palette for The Passenger that moves from washed-out desert locations to the postcard serenity of several European locales. Shot in a near-documentary style comprising long takes and subtle movement, the film consistently underscores the idea of setting as character. The evocation of place in even the smallest detail or widest long shot is the picture’s most significant asset.
Sony Home Entertainment recently released The Passenger on DVD, and the picture transfer is extremely faithful to the theatrical experience. There is intended visible grain in many scenes that enhances the realism of the lighting shifts that occur throughout the film. The colors appear appropriately saturated, and the transitions between harsh lights and darks feel seamless, with no visible chroma noise. This anamorphic high-definition transfer will please fans of the film and certainly entice newcomers. The audio mix is well represented in a two-track stereo presentation that offers clean, enveloping sound effects.
The DVD includes two audio commentaries, one by screenwriter Mark Peploe and journalist Aurora Irvine, and the other by lead actor Nicholson. Both are rich with articulate points and insights into the making of the film. Peploe and Irvine’s track contains a remarkable mix of anecdotal and scholarly points that position the film historically and artistically. Peploe also relates the picture to the rest of Antonioni’s work and explains how his “Hitchcockian” screenplay changed for the better in the director’s hands. In his commentary, Nicholson provides engaging, humorous and intricate remarks. Also included on the DVD is the film’s bizarre theatrical trailer.
Although different styles of filmmaking come and go, Antonioni’s dense, carefully paced pictures have continued to strike a chord with audiences around the world. There’s a rich reward in watching his films numerous times and examining the unfolding of their often-complicated narrative motivations. Much like viewing a complex painting, watching Antonioni’s films yields a wide range of interpretations. Unlike much of today’s cinema, his movies require patience to not only watch but also absorb. Thanks to this crisp DVD, one of the cinema’s most enigmatic journeys can continue to beguile audiences.