My discovery of Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni’s films occurred sometime in August. Antonioni died on July 30 at the age of 94, ironically the same day as Swedish director Ingmar Bergman.
The following weekend, when I was reading Martin Scorsese’s tribute to Antonioni, I realized that I had no idea why Antonioni meant so much in film history. So I did the most sensible thing possible. I rented every Antonioni film I could find and watched them. Of the eight or so films I saw, the one that has meant the most to me is L’Avventura.
Antonioni began his career in the Italian film industry in 1942, during the Italian neorealism movement. From 1950 to 1957, Antonioni directed five feature films. These films show Antonioni’s growth as a director and the development of his style that would be perfected in 1960’s L’Avventura.
In L’Avventura, a group of wealthy Italians are yachting off the coast of Sicily when one member of their party, Anna (played by Lea Massari) disappears. The other couples move forward, but her best friend, Claudia (Monica Vitti) and her lover, Sandro (Gabriele Ferzetti) continue to look for Anna across Italy. Their search eventually develops into a love story and the mystery behind Anna’s disappearance is never solved.
L’Avventura is often seen as the first part of a trilogy that includes La Notte (1961) and L’Eclisse (1962). These three films explicitly deal with alienation from the modern world. The upper class characters fill their purposeless and passionless lives with expensive outings, parties, and casual seductions. In L’Avventura, when the search for Anna becomes useless, the characters return to their decadent lives and easily forget about the vanished girl.
The true beauty of L’Avventura occurs in the way Antonioni builds emotion and creates tension from events that seem meaningless. Characters just act; there is no explanation or moralizing of their flaws. In this sense, L’Avventura is not a film about alienation from society but rather Antonioni simply shows characters who are alienated, without questioning why.
When L’Avventura premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May 1960, audiences booed the film for its unusual narrative structure, slow pacing and seemingly meaningless characters. Yet it is L’Avventura’s style and composition that makes it remarkably fresh and powerful after each viewing. Critics have always adored L’Avventura; it is now considered to be Antonioni’s best work and one of the most influential European Art Films.
Published: Mount Holyoke News
December 6, 2007