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The Passenger (1975)
|by P. G. R. Nair|
Director: Michelangelo Antonioni/ Italy/English/119 mts
David Locke (Jack Nicholson) is a television journalist making a documentary film on post-colonial Africa. To finish the film, he is in the Sahara desert seeking to meet with and interview rebel fighters involved in Chad's civil war. Struggling to find rebels to interview, his frustrations reach a climax when his Land Rover gets hopelessly stuck on a sand dune. After a long walk through the desert back to his hotel a thoroughly glum Locke finds that an Englishman by the name of Robertson (Charles Mulvehill), who has also been staying there and with whom he had struck up a friendship, has died overnight in his hotel room.
Locke switches identities with Robertson; he is tired of his work, his marriage and his life, and senses an opportunity to start over. Now, posing as Robertson, Locke reports his own death at the front desk, where the hotel manager mistakes Locke for Robertson, and the plan goes off without a hitch.
And of course it turns out that the corpse had a very vibrant life, one that involved political idealism and the risks involved in acting upon it. Robertson's daybook in hand, David returns to Europe to follow the strand of the dead man's future wherever it will lead. To his distress, he finds it leading toward a greater commitment to the world. Locke fears this even more than he fears the men on Robertson's trail.
Later Locke accidentally spots Martin on a street in Barcelona, as the latter tries to track Robertson down on behalf of Rachel. Locke backtracks quickly and at this point bumps into an architecture student (Maria Schneider) while trying to hide nearby. He asks her to fetch his belongings so he won't be seen at his hotel, where Martin has apparently camped out in order to catch up with "Robertson". She sneaks past Martin, and then stays with Locke as he drives off from Barcelona. They become lovers, as Locke confesses that he has stolen a dead man's identity while trying to explain his recent behavior.
Locke is flush with cash from the down payment on the arms he cannot deliver, but is nevertheless drawn to keep the meetings listed in Robertson's book. In the meantime, Rachel has received Locke's belongings that have been flown back from Africa. Having heard from Martin of his unsuccessful chase of the evasive "Robertson", Rachel receives a shock when she opens Locke's passport, only to discover the photo of Robertson pasted inside. She now realizes why "Robertson" is being so evasive, and heads off to Spain to track Locke down herself.
Locke now begins fleeing from the Spanish police, whom Rachel has brought in on the search for Robertson, but the Girl is loyal and helps him evade them, providing rational advice. Locke sends the Girl away on a bus, saying he'll meet her in Tangiers later. There onwards the tale takes precipitous turns and revealing moments.
Like all of Antonioni’s films, "The Passenger" too uses space, emptiness and architecture to create a sense of spiritual longing in an existential void. The film’s final scene is considered to be one of the great cinematic achievements in the history of the medium—a seamless tracking shot that moves through a gated window enters a courtyard and does a 180 pan and returns to the window from the opposite point of view from which it left, no edits. It was quite some time after the film was released that the method in which it was done became known to film buffs who had been baffled by Antonioni’s seemingly impossible feat.
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