The Passenger (Professione: Reporter) | 1975
Another cool, enigmatic puzzle from the director of L’Avventura and Blowup, with TV journalist David Locke (Jack Nicholson) spontaneously deciding to swap identities with a dead man. Having jettisoned his own habits and problems, he becomes increasingly drawn into those of someone else.
Locke is on an assignment to interview guerrillas in Saharan Africa when he discovers the occupant of an adjoining hotel room has unexpectedly dropped off the perch.
As ever, Antonioni chooses his locations carefully for their visual impact. Supposedly ‘Chad’, the coral pink desert studded with jagged black rocks is Illizi (formerly Fort Polignac) in eastern Algeria. In view of the current situation, you’re advised not to visit many areas of the country – including Illizi.
As his death is being reported on TV, Locke flies back to his base in London, using the identity of ‘Robertson’.
There’s no real explanation why he should be strolling through Bloomsbury, the genteel area with its famed literary connections, just north of the West End, but the then-brand-new Brunswick Centre provides the director with one of his archetypal brutalist backdrops. The intimidating, arena-like structure, overlooked by stepped rows of apartments, has since been humanised by the addition of stores and coffee shops, to become the much friendlier Brunswick Shopping Centre, standing opposite Russell Square tube station.
It’s here that Locke first glimpses the unnamed woman (Maria Schneider) destined later to become his companion.
Locke heads to his old home, which is over in West London, in Notting Hill. He lurks by St John’s Church, Lansdowne Crescent, opposite his ‘widow’s’ house, before furtively entering and retrieving some papers. His home is 4 Lansdowne Crescent, then a little more run-down than the fashionable enclave the area has since become. It’s only a couple of blocks north of the photographer’s studio in Antonioni’s earlier Blowup.
Flicking through Robertson’s appointment book, he decides to follow the dead man’s itinerary and flies off to Munich in Germany. It’s in a luggage locker at Munich Airport, that Locke discovers evidence of Robertson’s clandestine trade as an arms dealer.
Not only that, there appear to be to two men observing his movements.
When Locke drives to a church, the men – who had been expecting to meet Robertson at the airport – confront him and hand over the first substantial payment for a cache of arms. The church is Church of St Georg, Bogenhauser Kirchplatz 1, Bogenhausen. Incidentally, film director Rainer Werner Fassbinder who died in 1982 is buried in the church’s cemetery.
With the unexpected windfall, Locke hires a car, taking the road to Spain and Robertson’s next appointment, in Barcelona.
In the Catalan city, he rides the 1929 Transbordador Aeri del Port, the cable car crossing the port of Barcelona from Torre de Sant Sebastià (the Tower of St Sebastian), at the end of Passeig Joan de Borbó, to Miramar, on the hill of Montjuïc (not to be confused with the smaller Teleferic de Montjuic). It ’s a great way to see the city from the air, but at busy periods there can be quite a queue for exhilarating the ten-minute ride.
Locke stays in the bustling heart of Las Ramblas, the tree-lined shopping street running from Plaça Catalunya down to Port Vell, near the cruise port terminal. If you want to follow in his footsteps, the Hotel Oriente Atiram, Ramblas 45 still thrives.
It’s in the Umbraculo (Umbracle – Shade House), in the Parc de la Ciutadella, that he waits fruitlessly for his contact (who turns out to be a no-show). The vast greenhouse is one of the few remaining buildings built for the Universal Exhibition in 1883.
Avoiding a fellow reporter, on the trail of the mysterious Robertson, Locke slips into one of Barcelona’s many extravagant landmarks. By a strange coincidence, it’s here he finally meets the woman he saw in London.
When he admits knowing nothing of the gloomily art nouveau building, the woman helpfully explains that “the man who built it was hit by a bus”.
In fact, the unfortunate architect was one of the city’s most famous residents, Antoni Gaudí who died in 1926 after, indeed, being struck by a tram. The building is Palau Guell (Guell Palace), Carrer Nou de la Rambla, 3-5.
Returning to his hotel, Locke discovers there’s a message waiting for ‘Mr Robertson’ and decides it’s time to move on. Needing someone to collect his luggage from his room, he sets off to track down the only person he knows in the city.
This takes him to another Gaudí landmark – this time Casa Milà, (also known as La Pedrera) 92, Passeig de Gràcia, in the the Eixample district. As he hoped, he finds the woman, who’s exploring the building’s roof among the strange anthropomorphic chimneys. The same rooftop is featured over thirty years later in Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona. You can visit the building and, yes, that does include the extraordinary rooftop – though you’re unlikely to find washing hanging out to dry nowadays.
The happily compliant woman not only retrieves Lock’s baggage but joins him as he drives south to Almería.
They’re about to check into the Hotel Costasol, Paseo de Almería, 58, when Locke recognises his wife, who suspecting what has happened, is also on the trail of ‘Robertson’.
They make a hasty exit in the car and, followed by the police, turn off into the desert, which doesn’t do a lot of good for the poor hire car.
Looking for a mechanic, they stop beneath the clifftop village of Sorbas, northeast of Almería. It’s here that Locke sees the woman onto the bus back to Almería, while he heads off alone for a final assignation in ‘Osuna’. Amazingly, the small Bar Fatima in Sorbas is still in business.
The ‘Hotel de la Gloria’, supposedly in ‘Osuna’ (much further west, toward Seville), was actually in the village of Vera, about 40 miles northeast of Almería. It stood opposite the bullring on Calle Mayor. The oldest bullring in the province, dating from 1879, it’s been restored, and now houses a small museum of bullfighting memorabilia.
The site of the ‘Gloria’, though, where Antonioni ends the film with the justly famous tracking shot, has now been redeveloped.