The Passenger Michelangelo Antonioni

In his commentary on this 1975 film, star Jack Nicholson explains in his gruff voice that this belongs to a world of art-house cinema no longer seen, for the most part, one in which silence and slowness of pace were meant to reveal mystery, angst and uncertainty of purpose. He also admits that he admires the approach and misses it sometimes in a whiz-bang Hollywood. And then he proceeds to essentially watch the film, only very occasionally leaning in to whisper another offering — after all, talking through such a noble endeavour would be near sacrilege, even if talking through the film is exactly what he’s supposed to be doing. The Passenger concerns David Locke (Nicholson), a burnt-out war correspondent in North Africa, who impulsively takes on the identity of a dead man and then tries to unravel the mysteries that entangled the deceased, all while trying to find a place for himself while no longer being himself. It’s like a really slow, politically murky Constant Gardener meets Catch Me If You Can. The pace is terribly slow, the film does everything it can to convince you of the depth of its longing, and most of the time we’re bored. Perhaps this kind of angsty existential meh was exciting, fresh and innovative at the time, perhaps it was merely fodder for over-educated snobs to latch onto while deriding the arrival of a shark named Spielberg. But 30 years later, we can look back at it and admire a film world that took its dedication to artfulness this far. Perhaps it will also shut us up about how art films just aren’t the same any more — as we snooze along with Nicholson, we can be a little bit thankful perhaps. Plus: commentary by journalist Aurora Irvine and screenwriter Mark Peploe. (Sony)