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L'Avventura

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L'Avventura 
 
Michelangelo Antonioni I 1960 I Italy 
 
vitti-train.jpg
 
For me, watching L'Avventura for the very first time was a peculiar and meaningful experience. Because L'Avventura, to tell you the truth, is not a mere film - it's a penetrating character study, too. Michelangelo Antonioni's picture is one that requires a lot of patience; because of its gradual unfolding and slow (yet ever-engaging) pace, it is likely to bore and frustrate the average viewer. But isn't that just great? Isn't that precisely what the director intended to do? To split the audience in half, to make some love it and others dislike it? L'Avventura opened at the Cannes festival in 1960 to the hatred and irritated jeers of its initial viewing audience, but perhaps that occurred because the film is not meant to be really comprehended upon a first viewing. Evidently, it is quite understandable (though not entirely logical, in my opinion) that the public did not like it, given that i'ts not an easy film to watch; it may simply be too uninteresting for some people, but, then again, there are admirable elements in the film that one cannot merely ignore.
 
My opinion, however, was not the same. I found L'Avventura to be a magnificent film - that's it.  The plot is simple, although I will try to keep it as short as possible, because, to be honest, the less you know the more you're likely to enjoy it. One summery Saturday afternoon, a group of friends departs from Rome and goes on a yachting trip. But then, a girl mysteriously disappears. While her lover and her best friends search for her across Italy, they fall in love and begin an affair.
By not showing Anna's disappearance, the viewer is left wondering as to what her real destination was. We don't know why she vanished or exactly when she did and we don't see the moment of her going away; all we do is witness her not being there, wer'e just left contemplating her momentary non-existence. But why did she escape? Was it because of her dispute with her boyfriend? Was it because she wanted to be free? The truth is, we do'nt know. Anna's disappearance is supposed to mean a lot of things, yet there isn't a determined motive or symbolism for it all. Perhaps it represents her choosing a distinct path or a turn in her life the thing is, when she gets lost on the island, every single character is affected in some way or another. Nothing seems to work properly anymore, everything seems to be disconnected. And that's what the movie is about: disconnection. After the most pivotal moment of the film, everything around the characters gradually separates. The meaning of their lives, especially that of Sandro's and Claudia's, slowly disintegrates. And by limiting the audience's knowledge to what they both learn, the more compelling that it gets.
 
This sense of detachment is masterfully illustrated by the director here, and one of the main things that takes this into being is, no doubt, the wonderful cinematography. By using wide-lenses, the director weaves an impression of vast expansion, and not only that; when the characters are exposed against the immense, barren environment of the islands, we're made aware of how insignificant us humans really are. The black and white photography obviously helps in further developing the desperation and blackness that the characters have inside them; not matter what they do, it is exposed, (and with perfect clarity, mind you) that they'll never achieve true happiness. This is all greatly controlled, and what Antonioni manages to do (and successfully) is to communicate to us that ennui which the characters feel. Theyre bored of life; they never get amused by anything.  In sexual relations, pleasure, comfort and happiness is what they seek, but somehow, for some reason, they never reach the latter. Their souls are constantly filled with sorrow, and they get absolutely nowhere -  nowhere fruitful at least.
 
One could almost consider L'Avventura to be of a rather Hitchcockian sort. That assumption could not be more erroneous, really, because similarities between L'Avventura and Hitchcocks films are few. Yet, there's one thing I did not overlook, which is what may make these comparisons to Hitchcock inevitable: Antonioni gets rid of the apparent main character not very long after the films begun, just like Hitch did with Janet Leigh in that little masterpiece named Psycho, and, funnily enough, in the same year, 1960. But, unlike in Hitchs films, the suspense is absent, and the big pay off that the viewers been anxiously waiting for never comes. There's no explosion, mainly because the fuse is never lighted, so to speak. In every sense of the word, L'Avventura is not a tense film whatsoever. It's flat, linear and rather underwhelming yet it still proves to be a groundbreaking masterpiece.
 
One could argue that nothing much occurs in L'Avventura. Of course, I would agree. It isn't a film that tangles itself with the intricacy of its plot (the plot is very simple), no, on the other hand, the complexity lies in what goes on inside the plot. It's all about what happens to the characters and the situations that they find themselves in, it's about their feelings and emotions, about the consequences that the disappearance brings and the way it alters the personages.  The solidity of the screenplay is not just the film's major strength; it is also a privilege that few other movies have. Because of the thematic richness that the film contains, because of the biting observations on spiritual isolation and the many meanings of love that L'Avventura encloses, many questions arise and few of them are answered. We're kept being hit in the bat by Antonioni - violently but nevertheless effectively -  as he throws is components and constantly investigates our knowledge of who we really are.
 
Perhaps there are people who hate the film, because, as I've heard and amongst other things, they did not care for the characters. Well, guess what? Neither did I. Nor do I think we're supposed to. Considering that the picture is partly about disengagement, this comes as no surprise. I found myself not caring for the main personages. I did not particularly like them or identify with them, let alone relate to them. I was simply thoroughly intrigued because I was not aware of what was going to occur to them, and that's what I wanted to find out. I just wanted to discover where the paths they chose were going to lead them. Because, one has to consider that, when Anna disappears, a very big abyss is instantly created, which prevents (for some reason or another) the characters from connecting to each other. The thing is, that abyss concerns us, as well. A barrier grows between us and the characters in the feel we just don't care for them. Yet, wait that was the directors intention, wasn't it? To both disconnect the characters from each other and us.
 
Overall, L'Avventura is a very captivating film to watch. The cinematography, as I've already stated, is rather majestic and the acting is impressive, too; every actor suits their role with a nice capacity, but it is Monica Vitti in the role of Claudia, whom I was fascinated by the most. She's forced to show a very large array of emotions and she does it all superbly, keeping her levels of confidence up and gradually growing more convincing as the film advances.
L'Avventura is the film that, apart from becoming a worldwide success,  definitely kick-started Antonioni's career; not only that, it was also a film that confirmed cinema not just as a way of entertainment but as an art form and helped announce a crucial new era in international cinema.
 
The more I think about L'Avventura, the more my love for it seems to flourish. It was certainly a haunting experience for me, and I do not doubt that when I see it again for a second time, it will be very beneficent, and that I'll love it even more. It is the simple kind of ambiguity which surrounds it all that makes it so very extraordinary. And as for the ending it was entirely enigmatic. What was its significance? What was its purpose, its real meaning? Just... why? Winner of the Special Jury prize at Cannes in 1960, L'Avventura proves to be one of the finest of all time and the new mode of cinematic expression by which others should be measured.
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Reviewed by Pablo Hernandez, 2003