Seek Out the Truth in L’Avventura

A missing woman, a dark mystery that broods and builds into a tempestuous relationship, a painstaking process of turning the big screen into a canvas.
By  · Published on February 9th, 2009

Every week, Film School Rejects presents a movie that was made before you were born and tells you why you should like it. This week, Old Ass Movies presents:

L’Avventura (1960)

You’re never going to get a straight answer about L’Avventura. Not from the story itself. Not from the critical response. Not from its audiences. It’s something you have to see for yourself – preferably alone in a dark room – and to form your own opinion about.

Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni, it is an incredible escape, formed purely by composition of images, in a modern time where most director’s aim the camera haphazardly at the actors and call ‘action!’ This statement, of course might offend some fans of the film who claim the central feature of the film is character development. Still others will claim story – making an argument that the initial mystery that drives the plot being left behind is a brilliant plot device that presents itself as a gamble that pays off in serious dividends. They may all be right.

Anna (Lea Massari) and Claudia (played brilliantly by Monica Vitti who would use the film as a launch pad for international fame) are on a yachting trip with several other wealthy, ennui-prone members of society when Anna goes missing, vanishing without a trace. From that starting point, the film bonds Claudia with Sandro (Gabrielle Ferzetti) as they begin a tumultuous romantic relationship, slowly backing away from the mystery of the disappearance while maintaining a believable emotional environment. We may have left Anna behind, but Claudia never forgets that. The rest of the film focuses on the dischord between the two lovers that leads to one of the best scenes in film history.

If you’ve ever hoped for the fusion between classic visual art and film, the last scene of L’Avventura is one of the most beautiful things you’ll ever get the pleasure to lay on your eyes. Two characters with nothing more to say to each other display all the emotions that are left, the imagery of the scene bolstering each of them in different ways. A broken-down wall. The giant majesty of Mount Aetna standing proud, an earth’s worth of pressure growing beneath the surface.

Still, the film is one of those that either resonates strongly with audiences instantly or demands a second viewing. Those who don’t give it that second chance will miss out, as Antonioni’s creation tends to penetrate by that repeat screening. In fact, the film was a laughing stock at Cannes when it premiered, and in all fairness it’s a fairly challenging art piece, but going the extra mile and choosing to restart it will be an open door to its sheer, unadulterated brilliance and beauty.

If you need a stronger warning: this is a black and white, Italian film from 1960 that uses no CGI and features absolutely no shape-shifting robots. It is, however, a testament to the scope of what the art and craft of filmmaking. The metaphor’s are not oblique. The characters are vile and bored, but not boring, and you end up either caring about them or caring that they’re served with a sense of justice by the end credits. It’s no easy by any stretch of the imagination, but that’s why the second viewing is needed – if you feel open to investing that sort of amount of time to discover something truly amazing, L’Avventura won’t disappoint.

If nothing else, this film is an important reminder that the camera is king in the art of film. The scoring is breathtaking, but there is no doubt that Antonioni and cinematographer Aldo Scavarda take the patience of an obsessive painter, creating something from an empty canvas. As an experiment, if you’ve already seen the film, try watching it with the sound off, and you’ll most likely get an even better appreciation.

Editor’s Note: Normally Old Ass Movies appears on Sundays, but this week it’s showing up on Monday for the very special reason that I didn’t write it on time.

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