L’Avventura (1960)


*. One of my favourite movies. It’s beautiful. Evocative. Resonant. And it reveals some new experience or feeling every time I see it.
*. What is it all “about”? Or is it wrong (as Geoffrey Nowell-Smith suggests) to say it’s about anything, since it shows without telling and thus only indicates or implies? Are Antonioni’s films, like Rothko’s paintings, precisely about nothing?
*. In his Cannes statement Antonioni himself is quite didactic, though his point, that our morality is obsolete, pathetic, and damaging, doesn’t seem fully borne out by the film, where the main characters aren’t that interested in matters of morality.
*. The most frequent answer given to the question of what it’s all about is “alienation.” These are empty people. But a movie about empty people needn’t be empty itself, and this one certainly isn’t.
*. Pretty much everything you read about this movie starts off by talking about the main characters as filled with ennui, displaying a near total lack of affect. Anna goes missing and . . . nobody cares. Kael set the tone for this approach, but then Kael was a runaway moralist.
*. Is that still how it feels today? Sandro and Claudia seem genuinely upset at Anna’s disappearance, at least for a while. They do make an effort to find her, or at least as much of an effort as Anna is worth (Antonioni himself claimed to be uninterested in what happened to her, and I believe him). Sandro and Claudia also seem passionate toward each other, at least at times.
*. A movie that defined glamour for me when I first saw it. And still does, though I find the bathing caps horrific and some of the locations a bit tatty. But you get the feeling that everyone is aware of just how sharp they look.
*. Women. They want to be alone. It’s what Anna wants. It’s what Claudia wants (could it be something about Sandro?). It’s what Giulia doesn’t want, and then wants. Of course the men can’t leave them alone. The celeb Gloria Perkins is mobbed. Claudia is passively swarm-ogled. That’s the way it goes. At least in Sicily I guess.


*. Why I love Roger Ebert: “They [the characters] are like bookmarks in life: holding places, but not involved in the story.”
*. Why you have to be suspicious of Ebert (or any film critic, really): “Later, they [Claudia and Sandro] are joined by other friends, including Gloria, a sexy writer who walks oblivious through working-class streets where the men and boys boldly ogle her; she accepts their attention as if it is the weather.” Is he describing the scene where Claudia is swarmed by the male gaze? And is this a fair interpretation of her response?
*. Antonioni really loves the dual-layer composition shot, with one character’s head/face foregrounded and the other in the background. Usually the faces are directed away from each other. I wonder if the point isn’t so much that people are alienated from one another as they are all somehow incompatible. Especially men and women.


*. So many unanswered questions. Not just what happened to Anna, but why do Sandro and Claudia go up to the belfry? Why does Sandro knock over the ink bottle? One suspects an imp of the perverse, and maybe that’s the real explanation for Anna’s departure as well.
*. Many shots seem artificial, but it’s all in the composition. They are “natural” in the sense that Antonioni only uses what is there. He just sees more of what is there, and is able to somehow capture that “more.”
*. Antonioni was against having music in his movies, especially “commentative music” (the kind that indicates how you are supposed to feel). He thought the director could compose with images and the actors’ performances alone. But take things a step further and ask why bother with the dialogue. I honestly can’t remember a single thing anyone says in this movie. Not a line. And I’ve seen it many times. It’s not just that there’s no good dialogue, it’s that nothing anyone says is all that important. I think you could watch it as a silent film and not lose much at all.
*. How on earth did this movie get booed and jeered at Cannes? The audience was bored? What were they expecting? What was the usual festival fare at the time? It seems to have been warmly embraced by critics and Antonioni’s peers, and while Antonioni was not a successful filmmaker yet, he had established a name for himself. So why the outrage?
*. It’s an interesting take on “falling” in love. There’s little by way of the timeless art of seduction going on between Sandro and Claudia. At least initially they don’t seem to want to get involved. Even in the scene where he takes her suitcase, indicating that they are now together (a couple) neither seems particularly happy about this turn of events. But still they fall towards each other and things pick up speed. They have their one moment of bliss on the hillside, but like the train, it’s passing. As soon as Claudia appears to be hooked, he’s ready to move on.
*. I don’t care much for the ending. In his commentary Gene Youngblood talks about how Claudia is now the stronger of the two, that Sandro is only a lost child, and that she has moved beyond pity for him. I don’t get that sense. Sandro’s tears seem insincere. He’s still a player, and Claudia may not be buying all of it but she’s deciding to go along with him at least part of the way. I guess the distant volcano is there to suggest some further violence or explosion, but I think she really should be moving on.


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