Short Review of a Favorite Film: L’avventura (1960)

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Logline: After a woman mysteriously disappears on a Mediterranean island, her lover and friend start a relationship of their own.

Review: By the time L’avventura was released in 1960, Michelangelo Antonioni was well known in his native Italy.  When the film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, it was notoriously booed by audience members.  However, before the Festival was over, L’avventura received praise from an array of filmmakers and critics and won the Festival’Jury Prize for creating “a new movie language and the beauty of its images.”

The 1960s was such a pivotal time in the history of film, a decade in which film conventions were constantly being challenged.  L’avventura was one of the most influential films of the decade for it did indeed create a new film language, one that did not rely on a traditional narrative discourse.

Antonioni begins the film with a female character, Anna (Lea Massari), who seems to be the main focus of the story, until her narrative is abandoned completely.  One might be reminded of another 1960 classic, Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, in which the film’s protagonist is brutally murdered within the first hour.  However, in L’avventura, Antonioni does not provide the viewer with an explanation or resolution to Anna’s narrative.  She simply disappears.  Her lover, Sandro (Gabriele Ferzetti) and best friend, Claudia (Monica Vitti) search for the missing woman but they gradually abandon their search and fall for one another.

L’avventura is a film full of long stretches in which nothing seems to happen.  I guess this is one of the most fascinating aspects of the film for me.  At any given moment in the film, nothing and everything is happening all at once.  On its surface, L’avventura bears some resemblance to another 1960 film, Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita.  Both films show the moral ambivalence of the bourgeoisie but L’avventura is more about the impossibility of love in the modern age.  These characters want desperately to connect but find that ultimately, they are unable to have authentic, meaningful relationships.  This would continue to be one of Antonioni’s chief concerns in his body of work.  This thematic concern links L’avventura to Antonioni’s following films, La Notte (1961) and L’Eclisse (1962).  This trifecta of films is often referred to as Antonioni’s “trilogy of alienation.”

In Antonioni’s cinema, landscape plays a pivotal role.  There is often a correlation between a character’s feelings, or emotional state and their surroundings.  This thematic concern would become even more pronounced in Antonioni’s Red Desert (1964), which is sometimes linked to his alienation trilogy.  The location for each scene seems to fit the thematic material perfectly, such as the barren volcanic island in which Anna disappears.  Antonioni has stated that he often starts conceiving of films first in terms of place.

Antonioni was incredibly gifted at conveying moods and atmosphere by purely visual means.  One of my favorite shots in the film  occurs after Sandro and Claudia have visited an empty church in a seemingly empty town.  The duo leave the site but instead of following them, Antonioni’s camera lingers on the location in a slow tracking shot.  What is the main feeling that this shot and the entire film conveys?  Alienation seems to be the popular choice but it is a word that has perhaps, been a little overused when discussing L’avventura.  I do not think one can reduce L’avventura down to one word for it is so much more.

Antonioni’s films have memorable endings that are by no means traditional.  The human touch is such an important aspect of Antonioni’s cinema so it is fitting that it becomes the subject of L’avventura’s conclusion.   The camera focuses on Claudia’s hand as she hesitatingly touches Sandro who has just betrayed her. She chooses to forgive him despite his shortcomings that have stemmed from his societal and gender roles.

Silence is another important aspect of Antonioni’s cinema.  Music is used very sparingly in L’avventura but when it is utilized, it is extremely effective as in the film’s ending.  The performances in Antonioni’s films are incredibly subdued.  The trio of Vitti, Ferzetti, and Massari is excellent with all three giving great performances.  Vitti would go on to become Antonini’s muse, appearing in several of his films.

If it is not evident already, I could go on and on about L’avventura, an incredibly rich film experience that is haunting and profound.  This was on my “must see” list for years and when I finally watched and digested it, I was incredibly moved and the film stayed with me for a long time thereafter, not unlike the character of Anna.  Even though she vanishes from the film’s narrative, she always remains present in the viewer’s and characters’ subconscious.

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