Tuesday, 9 December 2014



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1960 - Italy/France (Cino del Duca/Produzioni Cinematografiche Europee/Societé Cinématographique Lyre)

DIRECTOR: Michelangelo Antonioni
SCRIPT: Michelangelo Antonioni
MUSIC: Giovanni Fusco

    When L'Avventura was screened to the audiences of the Cannes Film Festival in 1960 it was actually booed by the large majority of the critics and both Antonioni and the female star of the film Monica Vitti pretty much legged it from the cinema. I guess it tells us a thing or two about those critics. It has happened to so many masterpieces though. At first misunderstood and underestimated, the time and devotion of the fans eventually give those films well deserved justice. It's such a common pattern it's almost a rule. Which, in turn, is unfortunate, since where's a rule, there are bound to be exceptions. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear...

Like on many occasions before regarding some of the other directors, I am not really familiar with Antonioni. Of course, I do recognise the name and I do recognise a reasonable number of the titles of his films, but let's face it, I sat down to watch L'Avventura with as much bliss as ignorance could only provide me with. And I'm glad. Why? Let me put it this way: at hundred and forty minutes it is a fairly long film. And it's also, for most part, rather boring. Should I have known how it was going to end and that there is really not much to wait for, I would have struggled much more to watch it in full. I simply kept going hoping that some incredibly clever and surprising twist in the last minutes would turn my opinion by 180 degrees and triumphantly laugh in the face of my feeble faith and doubt. The twist did not arrive however and with regret I must say, I cannot blame those booing critics in Cannes, even if my disappointment is of a more silent disposition. To me, in all honesty, it's not even a film proper. It's an experiment that backfired. An experiment that should have been repeated after ironing out the flaws and mistakes of the first attempt. There's an ambition here, and a concept, and an artistic vision, but what is lacking is the end result.

I am not disappointed by the lack of the explanation of the plot's main mystery. I can a) cope with that, and b) I'm actually happy with it. I must admit, this is actually one of the things I feel strongly positive about here and I was glad to had read that although a scene in which the mystery is revealed was shot, it did not make it to the final cut. The problems here, as I see it, are far more substantial. One of them being, how do you judge a work of art that was supposed to be edgy, provocative and revolutionary more than fifty years ago? It's a universal problem with modern art, I'm afraid. Duchamp's urinal or Hirst's shark share the same fate. They don't shock us today, their controversy life-span was impactual, their shock-wave atomic yet one-offesque. L'avventura's hit between the establishment's condescending eyes had a similar character. It shook and questioned (and even displayed a rude gesture to) the way films were being made... before. So for us (anyone younger than seventy I guess), raised on the cinematic achievements that came since, all there is in this film is what's left when you sieve the rebellion out. Which, for me, leaves not much at all.
Can't be the story, because the story is thin.
Can't be the music, because there's almost none.
Can't be the acting, because it's not always very good (with some performances touching on absolutely dreadful).
The only thing I found really worth the time I've spent watching this film was cinematography and the sets. The film is universally shot on location and with Antonioni's personal passion for architecture, the lens of the camera give towns and villages of southern Italy quite a lot of rather sublimely executed screen time. Even in black and white L'Avventura is still a beautiful film to watch (that statement actually could include, depending on your interests both leading actors: Monica Vitti and Gabriele Ferzatti). It goes so far actually, that in some scenes it's the architecture's role to set the mood and atmosphere where in other, more traditional films a musical score would have been used to the same effect. After Claudia and Sandro leave the Mussolini commisioned modernist ghost town they encountered on their journey, the camera actually lets them leave, as if they didn't matter all that much after all, and remains still for a little while concentrated on a view of a church and framed by other buildings. The whole ghost town sequence actually feels as if Antonioni simply wanted to include that place in his film even if it's significance to the plot would have been very difficult to prove. The natural settings have been also used in the same way, especially the island Lisca Bianca, where the whole excursion sequence takes place. The barren, hostile landscape, the ragged shoreline with violent waves constantly crashing onto the rocks build up an unsettling and unnerving atmosphere of some subliminal threat, which, contrasted with the hazy, dreamy, and rather aimless pottering around of the group of characters, leave a strong emotional trace which immediately dug out of my memory the Picnic at Hanging Rock, a film based on a book that has been published only seven years after L'Avventura hit the screens. Than again, I never read the book and Peter Weir's film wan't made until 1975, which probably makes the theory of any link even less likely to be true.

So, what is the problem with the story then? Why does it disappoint so bitterly? Like I've already said, it's not even the unresolved mystery, it's the fact that even though Antonioni was trying to achieve something I have a feeling he was only trying to achieve it just for the sake of it. He questions the traditional way of making films but then he doesn't really offer anything in return. This film shows up in it's hippie sandals at a high society party shouting: Life's not about that! but when asked about it's own recipe, it kind of shifts nervously and leaves the room awkwardly. Of course, there are other things here as well: the critique of a specific social class, of a particular way of life, questions about the morality in a modern world, but again, they do not lead to conclusion, or even a suggestion of conclusion. Unless they do and I just missed the whole show somehow. Either way, I just felt short-changed and that I could probably expect more from an artist of that calibre. Thankfully, there are five more Antonioni's films on the list so I'm sure we'll still get a chance to get along nicely.

In other reviews I seem to be bouncing off the same arguments, the beginning of an era for Antonioni, the sign of things to come, first time Antonioni displaying his personal views on the condition of the society and morality... These are things I can very well understand and appreciate. It certainly makes L'Avventura an important and momentous film. But it doesn't necessarily make it worth watching. As a part of the trilogy (the other two films being La Notte and L'Ecclise from 1961 and 1962 respectively) is most definitely worth watching, but apart from that I feel that I would have a hard time trying to convince myself to ever watch it again.


Previously on 1001 FILMS TO SEE AND NOT DIE: Adam's Rib - George Cukor, 1949
Next on the list: The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Dessert - Stephan Elliot, 1994
And then after: The Adventures of Robin Hood - Michael Curtiz, William Keighley, 1938

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