L'Avventura (1960) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)
is one of the more ironic titles in film history, since there is not
much of an adventure at all. Pretty much nothing happens. A woman
disappears. They don't find her. Like the Australian film,
"Picnic at Hanging Rock", the very lack of an explanation is
an important part of the point.
This one takes a little more philosophical turn than "Picnic at Hanging Rock". In "Picnic", the disappearance of the girls transformed ordinary, even boring events into things that somehow seemed suspicious. Two guys were seen walking on the path at a certain time. Perfectly normal everyday stuff, somehow transformed into a mystery because of other events which called out for explanation and meaning, even when there was none.
In "L'Avventura", a bunch of wealthy, bored Italians are cruising some volcanic islands near Sicily. They land on an island. One couple is to be married soon, but the woman (Anna) is having second thoughts. She tells her boyfriend that she needs more time apart from him. She doesn't know how much. She doesn't know what she wants. Earlier, while they were swimming, she created a non-existent shark attack, for no apparent reason. The action shifts to another conversation elsewhere, and soon the group must set sail because the sea is turning rough. Where is Anna? Her boyfriend didn't even know she was missing. He was sunning, maybe drifted off in thought or to sleep, and he doesn't know where she is. Is she kidnapped? Did she die in the sea or on the volcanic rocks? Did she sail off with the mysterious caretaker? Somebody thinks they saw a small boat leave the island at two o'clock, or maybe not. They look for her on the island, on other islands, back on the mainland. There are reports that someone fitting her description was seen here or there. The clues seem to lead nowhere.
Leading the search are her boyfriend and her best female friend. In the course of the search, they very quickly start to become involved with each other and almost forget Anna. Then the girlfriend thinks she has fallen hopelessly in love, but the man seems reluctant to show and feelings for her. He asks to marry her, but he can't sincerely say he loves her. They are both quite pragmatic about Anna's disappearance. Anna filled a need for both of them, and now that she's gone, they have turned to each other to fill the need.
The plot with the missing girl becomes only deep background, and all of our attention shifts to the new lovers.
After they have become a couple, they re-join some of their friends for a party, where the woman goes to bed early, and wakes up alone. She is faced with a great philosophical dilemma. Up until a few days ago, her worst fear was that her best friend was dead. Now her worst fear is that her best friend is alive, and has come back to claim the man she loves. She senses this is the case, and searches for them in the hotel, knowing she'll find them together. As she searches through the debris in the morning after the party, she finds the boyfriend, but he's not with the missing girlfriend. He's just making out with a half-naked floozy.
She runs through the streets, in tears. He follows, in tears. He sits on a public bench. She approaches him from behind, and can't quite bring herself to touch him. Finally she touches his hair.
When the film was screened at Cannes, the audience hooted and booed, but several important cinema luminaries loved the film, and realized it was groundbreaking. Pauline Kael, the most influential critic of the era, perhaps of any era, declared it to be the most important film made that year. The film was awarded the Special Prize of the Jury at Cannes, and was a fairly solid box office success through the world.
Antonioni himself made a speech at Cannes that was even harder to understand than the film itself. He said that he was trying to create a new sense of cinema for a world which seemed to be lost since it was forced to change from a Ptolemaic to a Copernican world view. Once upon a time, man felt important, the center of a universe created especially for him, until science showed that man was simply a miniscule, insignificant mote of dust in an obscure corner of a seemingly endless universe. But man had not adjusted his moral code to correspond to his new place in the universe. In general, people understood his point, but couldn't figure out what the hell it had to do with the movie, and Antonioni couldn't or wouldn't elucidate.
Here's part of what he said:
"Even though we know that the ancient codes of morality are decrepit and no longer tenable, we persist in remaining loyal to them, with a sense of perversity that I would only ironically define as pathetic. Thus, the moral man who has no fear of the scientific unknown is today afraid of the moral unknown. His adventure can only end in a stalemate."
Whatever that means. My experience with Antonioni's statements is that they always sound like lunatic rantings, and he is never aware of it. Antonioni thought like a poet, not like a logician. He had no sense that events had to follow from other events, and he couldn't seem to relate his explanations to his films. The explanations were not really about the film, but about him. He felt something inside him, he wrote a script when he was dominated by those feelings. When asked a question about the film, he'd answer with what he was feeling at the time!
are poems. As the pundit wrote, "a poem should not mean,
To ignore Antonioni's muddled words for a minute and try to interpret the film, let me point out that the characters in the film have nothing to occupy themselves. They are members of the idle rich class. An important question to ask is - how do they pass the time? What excites them? Apparently, nothing. As one of the characters says "there is no spark". Without work to occupy them, without children to attend to, without money worries, they have no goal but to entertain themselves, and they don't even seem to care about that. It's not enough for Anna to be living in luxury, swimming in the Mediterranean, wedding a zillionaire. She's so bored with life, she needs to declare a shark attack just to see if anyone has any reaction.
Anna is so insignificant in the grand picture, that people barely notice she's gone, and replace her quickly in their lives. How could they miss her when she never really had any importance in the first place? She was moody and unlikable, and we could sense that the boyfriend was to marry her as some kind of social obligation. Within a short time, her best friend is in love with Anna's guy, and feels that the worst possible thing would be Anna's return. By then, they both really want her gone.
The reason that Antonioni is not very good at explaining his work is that he is also a member of the class he portrays. He would be a perfect character in his own movies. He can't tell you why he did things a certain way any more than his characters know why they declared a false alarm, or why they need to marry a woman they don't seem to like. It is as difficult for Antonioni to explain his films as it would be for a fish to explain why he lives in water.
If the people in this film were in the movie business, they would make films just like Antonioni's. The woman who declared a false shark attack, if given a camera, would make a movie about nothing at all, just to see if anyone would react. Or perhaps she would make a film that would lead you to think that it is about a missing girl, but would go on for an hour and a half after the girl disappeared, and barely mention her.
How did you think he thought of the false shark attack in the first place?
|By the way, Antonioni's camera work is
technically excellent. The shots on board the ship, with the volcanic
islands in the background, are spectacular, with both foreground and
background objects in focus.
In fact, that is Antonioni's favorite device, namely to photograph a conversation close to the camera while the characters stand in front of something in the far distance, yet the people, all foreground objects, and all distant background vistas are all in perfect focus, even when the shot is made from inside a dark room or a ship's stateroom, toward a person standing in front of the window or door.
The background vistas, of Palermo and the Sicilian countryside, as well as the offshore Aeolian islands, are spectacular.
Whether or not you agree with Antonioni's concepts of narrative structure, or lack thereof, his visuals are completely masterful.
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