Thanks to a more traditional narrative, The Passenger seemed both clearer and weirder than Blowup. Jack Nicholson's David Locke lets himself go into the unknown of another man's identity and wonders what's become of himself, surrounded mostly by stony-faced (African or Spanish) locals who offer him little to latch on to. Logically, then, he seems most at ease when interacting with the lady behind the Avis car rental desk.
Once again, absences come to the fore. Not only that of the desert's emptiness or the characters' lack of explicit motive, but also the lack of music and, to a degree, of movement between obvious climaxes. Those moments that could seem portentously symbolic (Locke "flying" in the cable car, Maria Schneider doing the same in the car, the amazing slow zoom out of Locke's room at the end) are cut short, as if to ward off the idea of a possible pivot point, one moment being more important than another. Even the moment when Locke decides to change identity is underplayed.
While this takes us out of the usual cinematic manipulation, where every action or emotion is articulated and commented upon (music, acting, etc...), isn't Antonioni's removal of those signposts equally manipulative? It does suceed in putting the viewer in a certain state. But maybe this a wrong question to ask: isn't the point of art to manipulate, whether in clichéd ways or not?
I wondered if some of the elements weren't more about Antonioni himself than the film. Notably, the scene in which an interviewee turns the camera on Locke seems like an admission to the viewer.
I met my photographer friend Alexis (who did the photography for Melanie De Biasio's album) at the screening and we had a great, long talk afterwards, on the film (I am unable to do justice to his insight, even though I got a few of the ideas above from him) and his view of photography. Alexis still uses traditional cameras and develops his own shots, which he framed in similar terms to the CD vs. vinyl debate. I hadn't seen his work before; check out his gallery on MySpace, it some fantastic stuff that makes great use of the organic side of traditional photography.
Coincidentally, Antonioni passed away the same day.