Director: Michelangelo Antonioni
Screenplay: Michelangelo Antonioni, Elio Bartolini, Tonino Guerra
In May of 1960, Michelangelo Antonioni’s 143 minute L’avventura was booed at the Cannes Film Festival. Despite this less than stellar reception to his film, Antonioni went on to have the last laugh: L’avventura took home the festival’s Jury Prize and is today regarded by many as a cinematic masterpiece. That’s certainly not to say that the film is everyone’s cup of tea, but with a little patience on the part of the viewer, L’avventura can indeed cast a very magical spell.
As far as narrative structure is concerned, L’avventura was unconventional at the time of its release and even today it defies established and pre-conceived notions of exactly what narrative can and should do. Lea Massari is Anna, a wealthy, selfish and somewhat contemptible woman involved in a relationship with the similarly attributed Sandro (Gabriele Ferzetti). Together with Anna’s friend Claudia (Monica Vitti), the trio set off on a Mediterranean boat trip with another group of friends. During an early afternoon stop at a particularly rocky island, Anna disappears. A police search follows, but Anna seems to have vanished without a trace. Though she initially resists, Claudia soon joins Sandro on a search for Anna and along the way, the two find themselves drawn to one another, ultimately giving in to their desires and falling in love. That may sound simple enough, but the film is really so much more than its deceptively basic plot hints at.
Control and the desire for control play heavily amongst the characters of L’avventura, particularly within Anna and Sandro. The emptiness of their material wealth seems to have accelerated their subconscious belief that lasting physical control over their lives and environments is impossible, and that the only manner by which any sort of control can be experienced is to strike out at beauty whenever such an opportunity presents itself. This is evidenced early on during the boating trip when the friends all go swimming and Anna creates a mass exodus back to the boat after she pretends to spot a shark swimming nearby. She revels in the pleasure of ruining the day of swimming, just as some time later in the film, Sandro purposely knocks a bottle of ink on to a young artists sketchpad, ruining the work in progress.
Throughout all this, it would seem inevitable that the world Antonioni creates is grim and void of any sort of beauty. Yet somehow, Antonioni manages to completely turn such a notion on its head and by creating characters who live by such nihilistic means, the beauty and richness of life and its surroundings are enhanced rather than diminished. Make no mistake about it, L’avventura is a gorgeous film from beginning to end; brimming with symbolism, rich in metaphor and depth and powerfully evoking the fragility and magnificence of all that is fleeting about life.