L'Avventura Movie Review

Clap, you bastards! After the receipt of scathing reviews during its initial presentation in Cannes, the urban alienation of Michelangelo Antonioni's L'Avventura feels more prevalent than ever. Look around at society and you'll find a collection of bored automatons plugging away at jobs they hate, returning to bourgeois homes and values as a mask to disguise their malaise. If Fight Club didn't have Brad Pitt and Edward Norton smashing each other's faces in as catharsis, their lives might resemble those of Sandro (Gabriele Ferzetti) and Anna (Lea Massari), a couple who can barely make love without distraction.

In their perpetual search for fun, this unhappy pair are all giggles as they embark on a yacht trip near Sicily, swimming and exploring a nearby island. Anna finds amusement in yelling "shark" when her friends are bathing, just to see if there's any life in them. "Throw up your head and then you'll wake up in the Dawn of the Dead," indeed. No wonder Anna claims she wants to be left alone.

Things meander along, as they do in all of Antonioni's films. ("I'm so bored," murmur the characters, and perhaps some of the audience.) The meaning is found in the silences and vast empty spaces that comprise L'Avventura. The island itself seems a barren wasteland of steaming rocks, as detached and unforgiving as Mother Nature. Compare that to the faceless industrial cities of Italy after their economic boom (that led to plenty of leisure time for an unsuspecting middle class), and there's really no difference at all.

Anna goes for a walk by herself and disappears. A search is organized for her, as Sandro and her best friend, Claudia (frequent Antonioni collaborator Monica Vitti) consider their options. Dwarfed by the location, they scuttle about fruitlessly like ants. Unsuccessful in their attempts to find her, they return to their accepted modes of city life.

It is here that Antonioni really pissed off his detractors, shifting his entire narrative focus away from Anna's disappearance. The effect is breathtaking in its audacity, much the same way as Alfred Hitchcock's structural shock to the heart in Psycho when Janet Leigh takes her fatal shower. The cinematic world is smashed apart, and reassembled into something new. Anna is forgotten by the other characters, as though she had never existed in the first place. Antonioni finds a replacement for her as Sergio's love interest, letting him now slavishly pursue Claudia. Social and moral functions of guilt are heedlessly cast away. Women are interchangeable and men are blind, thus the world goes ever round.

Woody Allen and Saturday Night Live have made biting parodies of the "foreign film," where the maudlin pacing and pretentious art-faux dialogue is ripe for skewering. Fair enough. Nevertheless, it remains intoxicating in much the same way as trips to the art gallery where one gets lost in the textures of paintings and photographs. Visual metaphors can open doors to human behavior, and that's as true in David Cronenberg's Crash and Todd Haynes' Safe just as much as in Antonioni's L'Avventura. To those who write it off as simply boring, it makes me wonder whether they chalk up the search for sex and adoration as tedious activity, too? To me, there's nothing mundane about the repressed desire to have sex.

Antonioni surpassed his own achievements with the "sequels," La Notte and L'Eclisse, which also star Monica Vitti and form something of a trilogy. L'Avventura has still held up remarkably well, perhaps because the creepiness of existence remains topical in these apathetic times. Advertising and marketing have replaced the yacht, and we're all floundering on what Nick Cave referred to as a cold, neurotic sea.

Comments

L'Avventura Rating

" Essential "

Rating: NR, 1960

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