Criterion Review: L'Avventura

Now celebrated as a masterpiece of Italian cinema, Michaelangelo Antonioni's L'Avventura was booed during its first screening at the Cannes film festival before going on to win the Jury Prize, an apparent paradox that reflects the tonal and thematic conflicts at the heart of the film. Critically lauded for its experimental form, L'Avventura's central narrative is deceptively simple: when a group of wealthy friends take a yachting trip to an island off the coast of Northern Italy, one of their group disappears without trace or explanation, triggering a search for her that opens a Pandora's box of emotional consequences.

Revelling in the ennui of post-war European glamour, L'Avventura eschews conventional narrative drive or sophomoric emotional satisfaction in favour of gorgeous compositions, inimitable style and an acerbic sensibility. But where other emblematic Italian films such as Fellini's 8 1/2 and La Dolce Vita give bourgeois creative malaise a predictably seductive quality, L'Avventura is under no illusion over its characters' entitled lifestyles. Their general indifference to each other is indicative more of childish tedium than urbane distance. Anna's (Lea Massari) inexplicable vanishing functions less as a narrative imperative than a thematic expression of the group's underlying petty resentments towards each other; Sandro (Gabriele Ferzetti), Claudia (Monica Vitti) and Anna's need for drama in their lives is presaged by Anna lying to the group that a shark is circling the island, a fictive omen for her later dramatic but ambiguous disappearance and the group's resulting dissolution.

This event should drive the rest of the group to action, but instead brings them to further self- indulgence, with Sandro and Claudia engaging in an ill-advised affair and the married Giulia (Dominique Blanchar) choosing to sleep with a callow artist over helping Claudia search for Anna. Indeed, only Claudia seems to seriously care about Anna's fate, with Sandro, Giulia and the rest seemingly oblivious to their own disconnected self indulgence. Even Sandro, Anna's fiance, seems motivated more by his attraction to Claudia than a desire to find Anna, an attraction that itself is apparently broken when he sleeps with a nineteen-year old prostitute at the film's climax.

None of the group are without culpability, their indifference to each other driven by a lazy nihilism, a passive acceptance of meaninglessness that invariably drives them to apathy. And yet, in its closing moments, L'Avventura avoids bare cynicism with Claudia's final gesture towards a weeping Sandro. It is as warm, sincere and selfless as it is futile, a final acknowledgement of their inescapable isolation, but one which offers a singular moment of genuine, if fleeting, connection.

Christopher Machell | @MagnificenTramp


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