Thursday, May 1, 2008


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.


Ibetolis said...

I only watched L'avventura, for the first time, last month so the film feels very fresh in my mind.

His use of space unnerved me as well, I can't get the images of the desolated rock island out of my head, the scope of those shots are immense.

I basically took the film as an ode to a lost generation, there's even a subtle hint to the literature Anna left behind before vanishing. The Bible and Tender is the Night by F.Scott Fitzgerald - a book about a lost generation if ever there was one.

Great film, glad I'm not the only one to have seen it.

weepingsam said...

I've been meaning to comment here since you posted... sometimes I'm too lazy for my own good. But this is an extraordinary film. It's odd - I don't think it gets enough credit as a story, sometimes - because it's a very fascinating piece of narrative. The way the point of view migrates - the way it splits the structural plot from the emotional plot. It's following Sandro, basically, the action is really centered around him - but it's all told from the women's point of view. I think it's subtle character explorations, the story structure, etc. does as good a job of approximating the effect of the modern novel on film as anyone: it's different from Bergman and similar directors, because they seem to work more like modern theater - Antonioni's films have the interiority of novels...

Which makes an odd contrast to the way they look, and the importance of the way they look... I sometime feel like I'm running on different tracks, when I think about his films: if I think about about the stories, characters, etc., they run one way; if I start thinking about what you see and hear on screen - it's like a different film. Both are damned good though.

Ibetolis said...

I completely agree, the narrative does tend to be overlooked.

Having only seen this one film in Antonioni's oeuvre I can't possibly comment on his overall approach to film however I can't imagine his work differing too much from L'Avventura.

The film's narrative structure is the closest I've ever witnessed that's anywhere near with the complexities of a novel.

I like what you guys have to say on this blog and I'm glad I found you by chance. Would you like to do a link exchange at all? I would happily add you to my blog roll, hopefully you'd consider adding mine.

Hope to hear from you soon. Thanks