Every once in a while, I'm asked "what is your favorite movie?", which in truth is an impossible answer for me, because it's so hard to choose just one. One moment I'll say Days of Heaven, then I'll say it's Blow-Up, or maybe it's The Sweet Hereafter, or Badlands, or La notte, or Mulholland Drive or Russian Ark. But for the purpose of the conversation, I tell them it's Antonioni's L'avventura (The Adventure), probably because of its epic scale, its daring break with convention, and its controversial history. And it's as good a choice as any of my pantheon of favorites.
For those who haven't seen it and don't want spoilers, stop here.
It's ostensibly about the search for a missing woman, but it becomes about something else. That's what sent its first audiences into a tizzy, that the first issue never gets resolved. I guess it's the law in movieland that all questions must be wrapped up before the film ends. Or at least, the "most important" ones. Maybe the dispute is over importance. Certainly the disappearance of the woman (Anna) seems to be central to the story, so it's unforgiveable then, that the filmmaker wouldn't lead us to the answer to that question.
His mistake might have been that of assuming his audience would recognize in the end that Anna's whereabouts wasn't the real point of the story. But for some of us who are headstrong enough to insist what must happen in a film, rather than let the director lead the way, it can easily become a disappointment.
If the film were shown in theaters today, I think it would have similar reactions as in 1960, because in general people don't know what's come before them, so the wheel is going to keep on being reinvented. And the average film of today is as conventional as they were fifty years ago, except with more f-words and sex and violence. But the structure of most films hasn't changed much.
In this film, as with many Antonioni films, he likes to make use of landscapes to reflect his characters' emotional states. And I found a little ditty of a scene here, which is one of my favorites, because it has this otherworldly effect on me by the way it was composed.
The camera slowly pans across as though a third entity is present, as they (Sandro and Claudia) are searching for any sign of Anna. They drive up into a deserted town in the hills, perhaps one of those "experimental" communities the government built, only to fail to attract any residents. Much of this is filmed in wide-angle shots, which further isolates these characters in their environment, or shows their 'true scale' in the landscape. They find nobody present, Sandro sees what he thinks is another settlement down the hillside and then turns around to look at Claudia, and she, being a wee tad more observant, tells him no, it's actually a cemetery. (Sorry no subtitles here, it's the only video I could find of this scene.)
You see, Anna was Sandro's girlfriend, but in the process of looking for her, Claudia is falling for her best friend's guy. She tries to fight it off, because she can really feel it not right, but also she is very weak. That's basically what the movie is about, is Claudia's constant struggle with her emotions. They still have to "look" for Anna, and Claudia really wants to find her, but at the same time she's at this point half-hoping they don't succeed. She's not a ditz at all. Unlike Sandro, she has a real sense of her place in the universe, which is all the more scary to her, and is why love is such a powerful elixor here.
Anna could be dead, or lost, or not knowing the answer alone is what is eating at Claudia's psyche, and she almost can't deal with the pain--but there is the power of Eros, ready to steal her away from her troubles--so it's little wonder why immediately after this scene here (which gets cut off at this point), she and Sandro "make out" by the railroad tracks.