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L’Avventura (#091)

“100 Films for 100 Rainy Days”



Directed by: Michelangelo Antonioni » Written by: Michelangelo Antonioni, Elio Bartolini and Tonino Guerra, 1960 » Region/Time: Italy, black & white, 145 minutes

Starring: Gabriele Ferzetti as Sandro » Monica Vitti as Claudia » Lea Massari as Anna » Dominique Blanchar as Giulia » Esmeralda Ruspoli as Patrizia » James Addams as Corrado » Lelio Luttazzi as Raimondo » Dorothy De Poliolo as Gloria Perkins.

“Tell me you love me.”
“I love you.”
“Tell me again.”
“I don’t love you.”

By the time this exchange occurs late in L’Avventura the audience is fully aware of Sandro’s typical male inability to make any kind of commitment. It is at this point that we realise that Claudia is also aware of this, and that she knows she needs to make a decision regarding their future relationship. The very fact that the audience can pick up on the internal thoughts and rationalizations of these characters is part of what made L’Avventura so astonishing at its time of release.

However, L’Avventura, which translates to “The Adventure”, has perhaps one of the most misleading titles in the history of film. It is a slow, languid film in which characters talk to each other without looking at each other and even have their back to the camera at times. At the time the film was released, both things were completely unheard of and yet, are so commonplace nowadays that we no longer even notice.

The film begins with what appears to be the central protagonist, Anna, worrying about meeting up with her boyfriend, Sandro, after a prolonged separation. They are going on a boat cruise with a few friends, but Anna’s father worries that Sandro is just using her and tells her she should think about getting married. Anna meets up with her best friend, Claudia, as well as Sandro, and they head off to the islands. It becomes clear that the entire group of friends are rich and privileged, with the possible exception of Claudia. It also becomes clear that Anna seems to be troubled over her relationship with Sandro. They go off to have a chat alone on the island and, a few minutes later, Anna has vanished. Did she hide? Did she have an accident? We might have seen her take off in a boat. We might also hear a boat a short while later. Nothing is explained.

What follows is Sandro’s and Claudia’s half-hearted attempts to find out what happened to Anna. Within minutes of Anna’s absence, however, Sandro tries to kiss Claudia. The real heroine of the film is Claudia, and the movie will be about the changes and growth she undergoes. Throughout the film, Sandro pursues Claudia, as they, in turn, pursue hints of Anna’s possible whereabouts. Eventually, they both give up completely and, instead of fearing for her safety, begin to fear that she will actually turn up.

L’Avventura received most of its high praise for its stunning visual achievements. I could have spent hours selecting the different screen captures to add to this article as almost every moment of the film has the most intriguing photographic compositions. Characters slide off the side of the screen, turn their backs to us and are frequently dwarfed by the architecture. (This is not accidental, as Sandro is a failed architect who realises at one point that he is talentless and directionless.)

There is one remarkable sequence late in the movie where Claudia goes through a minute of two of intense inner monologue, with no words spoken, and yet we can almost tell exactly what she is thinking. At the end of the movie, Sandro betrays her, as she knew he would, and she must decide if she forgives him or not.

I should issue a pretentious alert for those people who watch this movie, especially if listening to the commentary track on the DVD, so you can snort in derision at film critic Gene Youngblood amusing claims – soooo film class. But what would you expect from a film about ennui and alienation, the director of which is called Michelangelo Antonioni? Antonioni went on to produce two further films in a loose trilogy, all starring the stunning Monica Vitti, his paramour of the moment. L’Eclisse is especially worth watching. His two other best-known films, Blow Up and The Passenger are also required viewing.

Up Next in the Film Canon: A crumbling, post-war Vienna.

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