Passenger (The) AKA Professione: Reporter (Blu-ray) [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - United Kingdom - Powerhouse Films
Review written by and copyright: Rick Curzon (18th March 2018).
The Film

In one of the most acclaimed films of all time, Michelangelo Antonioni (Blow-up, Zabriskie Point) directed international star Jack Nicholson (The Last Detail, The Border, Wolf) and Maria Schneider (Last Tango in Paris) in an elliptical and fascinating thriller about alienation and lost identities. Now finally making its Blu-ray debut in the UK, this essential work from one of cinema’s most renowned and celebrated film artists is accompanied by an array of fascinating and insightful extra features.

Video

A quintessential example of Michelangelo Antonioni’s oeuvre is this thriller-mystery-drama about a reporter David Locke (Jack Nicholson) on a trip to Saharan Africa who’s trying to find the rebel forces to interview them for a film he’s making.

His life is in a rut; his wife Rachel (Jenny Runacre) is having an affair with Londener Stephen (Steven Berkoff) and when he finds an acquaintance dead (David Robertson played by Charles Mulvehill) he assumes his identity in the hope of starting a new life. Along the way he hooks up with an architecture student (the late Maria Schneider).

But as he follows Robertson’s trail around the world, it would seem he was not all he appeared to be. We see key points in Locke’s recent life in flashback as he slowly follows his new destiny.

I’m familiar with the late Antonioni’s work and like it so I enjoyed this arthouse favourite which has a very oblique, languid style ... whilst it follows a fairly conventional plot and story. This contains several jaw-dropping camera tricks that I had to rewind to fully appreciate; a key flashback that starts in the present with a tape of the deceased playing that segues into the reality of when the tape was recorded and Nicholson appears in both timezones and no edits take place. Also, the penultimate shot in the film where the camera starts inside a hotel room and goes out the window and into then street.

I could imagine a more mainstream film maker like Sam Peckinpah or Tony Scott handling the same story but the thriller elements would be massively emphasised and Sam or Tony would blow shit up every so often. Very much an acquired taste and a great piece of ‘70s arthouse cinema.

This is one stunningly shot film with terrific use of locations and the master from Sony supervised by the great Grover Crisp and encoded to a high standard by the equally great David Mackenzie means that we have yet another top quality disc from Powerhouse Films as part of their Indicator series.

Colours are very naturalistic, perhaps even slightly desaturated which would suit Antonioni’s oblique style. Contrast is tested whenever we have brightly lit scenes in North Africa but detail never suffers and black levels are suitably dark and true with very little crush; unless by design in some of the more brightly lit sequences where shadow detail is eclipsed.

There is ever present film grain that ranges from fine in indoor, well lit sequences to very course in exteriors particularly in night scenes. However, this feels perfectly in keeping with the source elements and the chosen visual style. In any case the encode is more than up to the challenge keeping everything consistent without clumping or holes in the grain.

There are no signs of damage onscreen that I noticed and thankfully no signs of any digital tinkering having been done.

1080/24p / MPEG-4 AVC / 1.85:1 / 125:56

Audio

English LPCM 1.0
Subtitles: English HoH

An expertly crafted mono track which uses Ivan Vandor’s lowkey score very sparingly. An unusually quiet thriller with comparatively little dialogue given the length of the film and expert use of sound effects and ambient noises. Dialogue is always audible and clear so no issues with it being trampled on by music or effects work.

Extras

Audio commentary with Jack Nicholson

It’s always good to hear Jackie Boy, but this 2006 yaktrak is a rather spartan affair with plenty of dead space. What he says is naturally fascinating especially when discussing working with Antonioni, one of the all-time great directors and very talented and dedicated man. I just wish that a moderator had been on hand to prompt Nicholson when he dries up.

Audio commentary with Mark Peploe and Aurora Irvine

Fascinating track featuring one of the writers of the piece who is now an academic and a journalist with whom I’m not familiar moderating. It’s a candid, chatty track filled with interest and trivia from the production. I’d love to see Powerhouse handle the Peploe co-scripted High Season (1987) which was directed by his sister Clare.

Audio commentary with Adrian Martin

This is the jewel in this disc’s crown; a jam packed, fascinating, academic track that never lets up for a second ... or so it seemed. Martin is a old hand at these tracks but I’ve yet to knowingly encounter his work, but based on this I’ll be seeking out more; even if the film concerned is a bag of shite, he’d make it interesting.


“Profession Reporter: Michelangelo Antonioni at the Canne Film Festival, 15 May 1975” featurette (4:54)
“Antonioni on Cinema” featurette (4:40)


A couple of vintage pieces that feature Antonioni discussing his work and The Passenger. Both are interesting giving some insight into a rather enigmatic cinematic figure with a unique world view.

“Antonioni: The Final Sequence by André S. Labarthe” featurette (12:38)

An analysis of the penultimate shot in the film and how it was made. In French with optional English subtitles.

“Jenny Runacre on The Passenger” featurette (14:22)
An interview with an actress who I have admired for decades having enjoyed her performances as a teen in The Passenger, Jubilee (1978), Hammer’s The Lady Vanishes (1979), The Mackintosh Man, The Final Programme and The Creeping Flesh (all 1973). She was one of my pinups back in the day and I was most interested in hearing about her stage career which I was not very aware of. Her tales of working with Antonioni and especially Pasolini (The Canterbury Tales, 1971) were of special interest.

“Steven Berkoff on The Passenger” featurette (10:13)

The enfant terrible of the British stage and Hollywood villain in Octopussy (1983), Bevely Hills Cop (1984) and Rambo: First Blood, Part II (1985) is to be found in surprisingly mellow mood discussing his experience on The Passenger. Having not seen the man interviewed before I found this fascinating.

Theatrical Trailer (2:04)

Standard trailer of the era that plays up the plot more conventionally that the film itself.

The Passenger Image Gallery: Original Promotional Material (51 images)

Plenty of interesting stills and promotional material on hand here.

40-page booklet with a new essay by Amy Simmons, Antonioni’s production notes, archival interviews with Antonioni and Nicholson and film credits

Simmons article which analyses the theme of the film is most interesting and considered, focusing on Antonioni’s visual approach and how that alters the emphasis of the story. The Antonioni pieces are sublime giving us more insight into his approach for the film; his comments on how he “talks in pictures, not words” was illuminating. The Nicholson piece opens with him stating that he felt Blowup (1966) was a success for Antonioni because it contained “the first beaver shot in a conventional theatre”; after that what can you say. An essential read.

Overall

A classic film given it’s due in it’s definitive home video release until Powerhouse starts releasing 4K UHD Blu-ray editions. Extensive, choice extras; all I can say is that this is going to be - for me at least - one of THE releases of the year. Get it bought!

The Film: A+ Video: A+ Audio: A+ Extras: A+ Overall: A+

 


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