A film I need to see again, and wouldn't be surprised to love more on repeated viewings. I appreciate Antonioni's magnificent framing and images, his bravery with unconventional plotting; (e.g. having his true 'main character' disappear 10 minutes in). It's legendarily slow pace didn't bother me at all, but I did find the insights into the characters, how empty and desperate they are somewhat repetitive over time. I'll admit to moments of feeling 'yeah, I got it already'.
Antonioni brilliantly uses lonely landscapes to show how isolated these people are. But some of the performances didn't thrill me (there's a key difference between playing a shallow character and being a shallow actor, and it sometimes seems confused here).
It stayed a very intellectual experience - an essay about the lack of humanity in the upper classes beautifully illustrated. But it seemed so removed and exaggerated, even from my own comfy existence, that I found I wasn't moved on a deeper level.
That said, all these same criticisms could be aimed at 'Barry Lyndon', a film I have come to love deeply on repeated viewings. Like that film, I suspect I'll see much more next time I watch it. The telling thing is I find myself anxious to re-see it, in spite of it's challenges.
on October 18, 2002
The virtues of this film feel overstated. Notably, its alleged innovations seem more like evolutions or, not always successful, exaggerations of existing techniques. Also, its insights into human emotion seem less profound than its pretensions; and its beauty, while ultimately undeniable, has an artificial and less than celebratory quality.
the film renders its characters' inner worlds largely through objectification in the outer world - that is, not simply through the characters' actions, but through the choice of the natural and built environment that frames them, and through the very framing itself. This technique was not revolutionary, but when coupled with Antonioni's use of extended takes, and the audience's consequent confrontation with cinematic time where 'not much happens', and with his diminution of other traditional cinematic effects, such as music, the experience might stand as unprecedented. But is it effective? Can the background settings and the compositional arrangement of figures within the frame, alone, serve to unveil the inner emotional states of the characters with any perspicacity? While 'L'Avventura' makes a brave case, I think it ultimately falls short. One reason perhaps being its failure to acknowledge that dialogue, action, plot are still doing a tremendous amount of work in the film, work which it pretends is being shouldered by more 'subtle' elements.
The Criterion edition has an illuminating commentary by Gene Youngblood - he is a self-confessed advocate of Antonioni, and he sees innovation in the use of 'metonymy' rather than 'metaphor' - this distinction he draws as follows: a part of an object stands for the whole of the same object, rather than for an altogether different object or concept. Cryptically, he asserts this insulates metonymy from being taken as 'symbolism'. Is his case convincing? Characters pass through untold archways and doors and corridors in 'L'Avventura', and lovers even lie on a grassy foreground as a steaming locomotive rushes into a dark cutting - whatever the 'metonymical' force of such images, they also appear crudely symbolic (don't they?). The film does rely on symbolism, not always eloquently, and that it does helps to explain its 'abstract' quality.
The emotional world of the film is said to be that of ennui and alienation. Sandro, the male lead, is particularly vacuous - but we know this from standard narrative devices: in dialogue he tells of his avarice winning out over artistic ambitions; he neglects women, as per his month-long absence from Anna, and from his subsequent actions; his facial expressions are bereft of depth (so much so it's tempting to simply label Gabriele Ferzetti a poor actor, although it's more interesting to compare his function with that of Rock Hudson in Sirk's melodramas). The composition and framing help, sure, but his inner emptiness is obvious in any case. Monica Vitti's Claudia, likewise, demonstrates her inner confusion through her behaviour - the plot, while rudimentary, reveals her character all too traditionally - here is a woman whose best friend has either died or gone missing on account of an emotional crisis, and within days she succumbs to the sexual allure of her friend's erstwhile lover, a rich, handsome and shallow man. Gene Youngblood calls this 'romantic', but melodramatic might be more apposite. He goes on to say that Claudia and Sandro share in one of the cinema's greatest romances! This is misguided hyperbole. Neither Claudia, nor Sandro, possess the range of emotion or experience to viably function as an everywoman or everyman. They are grotesquely stunted human beings. To universalise from these (un)emotional lives is problematic. Any 'insights' gained are thus limited in scope, and less profound than they wish to be.
The choice of such shallow characters may provide difficulties for formal characterisation, plot, and for audience empathy, but it might also facilitate Antonioni's theoretical intentions - after all it is easier to render Sandro's limited palette of emotions through 'objectification', than it would be Hamlet's.
At one level the beauty of the cinematography and composition is undeniable. Yet even here I feel other directors outdo Antonioni - for example, Satyajit Ray, Bergman, Tarkovsky, Eisenstein, and Dreyer. I disliked the very limited range of grey that fill so many frames of earth and sky and sea - intentional, perhaps, but not altogether beautiful. At times I found myself wishing he'd filmed in colour, something I never wished for with the other directors cited. The composition too contained a kind of compromised beauty. At times it seemed too artificial and too repetitive, so that it was in danger of being formulaic. In contrast, Ray's wonderful compositions feel organic and less contrived.
In sum, it seems reasonable to agree with the film's detractors as well as with its champions. A flawed work of art, but an extremely interesting one.
on February 22, 2002
I have no intention of providing a synopsis of this movie. I'm sure other reviews, including the editorial one, will supply what you need to know in terms of the plot. This movie is very much a film student's movie. Watching it with the audio commentary on, I feel like I'm at school. I really enjoy what Antonioni does with the visual symbolism of the movie. Like Fellini, he lets the pictures drive the story. I saw the film several years ago and felt like the original viewers at Cannes must have felt--what the...? Antonioni hooks us in by making us believe that this is a story about a missing woman, when it is really about the relationships people have with one another. If you are looking for something comparable to "The Vanishing," you have come to the wrong place. The pictures of the movie are beautiful and as is noted in the commentary, one could actually click pause and study each frame as if it were a photograph. This is visual directing on par with Lynch and Fellini. Antonioni is driving film into high art territory with this one and if you are willing to go with him, he can take you some interesting places. But it is a very calculated ride and disecting the movie in these terms makes me wonder if it is truly worth it. The film does not function that well on any other level. The plot makes little sense and is actually a bit annoying at times unless you are focusing on the structure of the scenes, the frames and staging. If these are the things you really like about Art House and Italian cinema, you will probably enjoy this movie. You should know these things going in. I hope this helps you make a decision.
on April 20, 2001
For Antonioni, life is an "adventure" a quest for identity and meaning.
It is no accident or inconsistancy that the initial group of characters seem to forget all about their friend who suddenly vanishes on a barren volcanic island. The unexpected absence seems to open a void of speculation, which the balance of the film proceeds to explore.
It should always be remembered that the VISUAL aspect in Antonioni is as important as the verbal; and, often, it is more important. The characters continuously gaze at a landscape, run their hands along a rock or some other surface as if trying to see or feel what is under the veneer. There is something almost Eastern in Antonioni's aesthetic. His films seem to view the material world as an enormous surface illusion. People, the director has said, have lost touch with their true origin, as part of the natural world. Large cities and technology have cut us off, and isolated us from nature. The modern individual is constantly in search of a primal connection. This explains the preoccupation with sex in some characters, something Antonioni calls "serial monogamy". Since sexuality, as Huxley has said, is the only remaining link to the mystery of life, humans turn more and more to it as their world achieves greater sophistication and technological advancement.
Through a poetic use of black & white image and spare dialogue, Antonioni creates a world of strangely compelling and sympathetic characters. The viewer is compelled along with them on their "avventura".
The Criterion DVD release of "L'Avventura" is pretty much what it should be. The film itself looks better than ever, with the technology's ability to represent black level so well, it looks more like a 'film', not a video. The supplementary documentary doesn't offer many insights, but is completely fascinating as a document of a great period in Italian cinema. The behind-the-scenes footage is priceless, as is a short interview with Giovanni Fusco, Antonioni's composer for several key films. Jack Nicholson reads some interesting texts, but it's too bad only one image is displayed throughout the readings. As for the audio commentary, it is mainly useful for information. Youngblood's interpretation seems too generalized at times, while he passes over important moments without any comment. Simply saying a technique or a type of shot is "typical" of the director is not enough. What does it mean? Or how does it figure in the film as a whole. Still, Youngblood's enthusiasm must not be discounted: his commentary can spark the viewer's own imagination about the film.