The following originally appeared in the newspaper L’humanite? on February 26, 1961, to coincide with La notte’s French release. It was translated for Criterion by Nicholas Elliott.
La notte is a story that goes back two years. Long ago, I had approached a producer about doing a film called Party. It was about what happened during a reception at a bourgeois home. I had been to a party of that type a short time earlier and had been struck by certain episodes, certain small incidents I had noted. Or, more specifically, apparently small, but not if you considered the significance they held for those who were their protagonists.
The film was not made. Perhaps that was for the best. I returned to the idea two years ago, but several successive drafts left me unsatisfied. Something was missing that I could not find.
Meanwhile, the idea for L’avventura came to me, and I threw myself into that film, body and soul.
Yet I was still obsessed by the other story, and I got back to work on it. I was unable to get enough distance from certain autobiographical aspects; I could not reinvent them.
The protagonist was a woman who could not be beautiful; I offered the part to Giulietta Masina. I went to meet her and told her my idea for the film. Fellini was there; he told me the film could be very beautiful. But I still wasn’t convinced. I got back to work.
One day, I finally understood what I had to do. A woman who wasn’t beautiful was a mistake because it limited the film’s meaning.
One could think that her lack of beauty might be the only reason her husband’s feelings for her came to an end. So I changed the character once again, while simultaneously giving the man’s role more weight. I also eliminated the characters that surrounded them. It was to be the story of a couple, more in depth, more precise psychologically. Finally, I liked the film, and I went to work to direct it.
One question I am often asked is why the women in my films are more lucid than the men. I was raised among women: my mother, my aunt, and lots of cousins. Then I got married, and my wife had five sisters. I have always lived among women; I know them very well.
Yet this is only the anecdotal aspect of my answer. Speaking for myself, I find that the feminine sensibility is a far more precise filter than any other to express what I have to say. In the realm of emotions, man is nearly always unable to feel reality as it exists. Having a tendency to dominate woman, he is tempted to hide some of her aspects from himself and see her as he wants her to be. There is nothing absolute in this area, but it seems to me that is at the heart of it.
I was already busy shooting La notte when I started rereading Thomas Mann’s On Marriage, in which the author of Death in Venice pays such a beautiful tribute to the love and steadfast devotion his wife surrounded him with throughout his life. It was then that I became convinced, once and for all, that I was on the right path, by thinking of the weight of masculine egotism implied by such a total abstraction of his wife’s personality to his own benefit.
Five or six years ago, the audience would have had difficulty tolerating a film like La notte. I am happy about the reception La notte has received, not only for me but for cinema in general. It means that something has changed. For the better.