Friday, February 12, 2010

#98: L'Avventura

(Michelangelo Antonioni, 1960)

This is the third time I've seen L'Avventura, but I think it's really the first time it sunk in. The first two times I was watching it mostly for the technical beauty of the film. Its compositions and editing are unlike any other movie, and Antonioni's work here is literally awesome. I always knew it was a great film. Today, I think it may be the greatest of all Italian movies, the purest representation of the struggles of Modernism ever put onto film.

Released the year after Fellini's similar La Dolce Vita, the film follows a group of wealthy modern men and women struggling with their own ennui, generally giving in to their whims and urges, and searching for anything other than the person they were looking for, the woman who disappeared off an island in the Mediterranean. She was supposed to be their friend, their lover, their daughter, but they seem more concerned with, well, what concerns them at the moment. The difference between these cold, lost souls and the middle-class subjects of Fellini's film is that those people were indeed searching for the sweet life, trying at every moment to live it. Here, Antonioni's characters seem stuck in a rut they have no interest in staying in, but make no effort to get out of.

I can't help but wonder if Antonioni didn't intend so much when he named the film "The Adventure" and created a plot that involved a missing beautiful girl on an exotic island, and then proceeded to make a movie about how nothing is there. The experience of viewing L'Avventura can be just as existential as the experiences these characters go through. Why do we watch movies, anyway? To be entertained, or to search for a deeper meaning in life? Did we expect the woman to be found, did we hope for some mysterious revelation that wrapped it all up? Both or neither, I couldn't help but feel like Antonioni was mocking the very idea of getting answers from film, or even of being exposed to another world, the "adventure" of the title, in making this movie. As the sun comes up at the end of the film and the two protagonists commiserate, we are left with the profound emptiness of their lives, the deep disappointment of a journey that does not breed satisfaction.

If I really believe that is what the movie is about, and I also believe what I said about the film struggling with Modernism, then maybe L'Avventura is just another movie about how microwaves give us hot food fast but don't really make us happy. But the film isn't rejecting the modern life. It's asking for the new within us, so we can reconcile our vision of ourselves with the new world around us. All this, and I haven't even mentioned the filmmaking. And, oh, the filmmaking. It's amazing to think Antonioni had previously made little-known pictures before producing this dynamic and poetic masterpiece. Honestly, I am at a loss to think of any movie made before this that is like it. I think this may be the first truly novel use of the widescreen, and everything here, from the framing to the blocking to the lighting, couldn't be more impressive (this needs to be on Blu-Ray, right now).

What I'm saying is that I enjoyed this movie.

Actually though, the only bad thing about this movie is that Lea Massari, who plays the missing Anna, doesn't get enough screen time. Probably one of the most beautiful women ever put on screen, I'll see more of her when I get around to Malle's Murmur of the Heart. For now, please see this movie if you haven't yet. And if you have, watch it again.

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