The Set-Up – Sandro (Gabriele Ferzetti) and Claudia (Monica Vitti) have by now pretty well forgotten their quest for Sandro’s missing fiancée Anna. Sandro has just left their hotel and gone down to the courtyard. He notices a young man drawing. He’ll be back in a few seconds.
The artist has left his drawing unattended.
Sandro looks to see if the guy is watching.
He checks out the drawing again – a sketch of an architectural detail.
Sandro swings his keys and upsets the bottle of ink on the drawing, ruining it.
The young guy confronts Sandro. “You did it intentionally!” They jostle a bit.
Sandro pulls himself up and asks the young guy how old he is. Told that he is 23, Sandro relies “I was once 23, too. I was in so many fights, you couldn’t imagine.” Translation - “Your art is not worth fighting for.”
Antonioni has been gradually letting Sandro reveal himself to be spiritually and morally bankrupt, and it’s crystallized in this moment. Sandro is an architect who has long ago lost any passion that he ever felt for his art, and seeing this drawing, done just for fun, reminds him of how jaded and corrupt he is. That’s why he has to destroy it.
An aside: It will be interesting to see how often this feature reveals stuff that I didn’t notice before. Case in point – The guy who confronts Sandro is not the guy doing the drawing when he first sees it (1st frame). The actual artist appears to be the guy in the light jacket that breaks up the tussle.