My mate James Brimson is a crucial part of my film education because he introduced me to two canonical, arthouse films and their directors. One, A Man Escaped by Robert Bresson, I thought was a masterpiece and showed me that some films are considered great because they just are. The other, 1966’s Blow-Up by Michelangelo Antonioni, was one of the most irritating films I have ever sat through and taught me that just because a film may be considered by certain stratas of film fandom to be unimpeachable, doesn’t mean you have to agree! A lot of the problems I had with Blow-Up, I still have with L’avventura (The Adventure) which is, if anything, considered even more of an unassailable classic. That said, it’s nowhere near as irritating.
Best friends, Anna (Lea Massari) and Claudia (Monica Vitti) join Anna’s boyfriend, Sandro (Gabriele Ferzetti) on a boat trip to the Aeolian Islands, North of Sicily. Along with some other close friends, they swim and wander and chat about their relationships. Soon, however, Anna mysteriously goes missing and cannot be found. In the wake of her loss, Claudia and Sandro, fall for one another and embark on a complex relationship.
That is – mere hours after her disappearance – Claudia and Sandro embark on a complex relationship. Anna disappears and they search for her for a bit and then Sandro makes a pass at Claudia and instead of giving him a knee in the bollocks, she becomes confused and tormented (or stupid, however you wanna look at it). My problem with this is very much the same as with Clouds of Sils Maria and looking back, certain similarities become apparent*. These characters have privileged lives and seem to do fuck all with them. They are people who actually have time spare to have existential crises. The dialogue doesn’t help, either, as they do what so many characters from Lars Von Trier and Terrence Malick films do, which is to talk in ‘themes’.
Appearance is an important theme, so we get lines like; “Believe me Anna, words are becoming less and less necessary; they create misunderstandings” or; “‘Do you like scuba diving?’ ‘I simply loathe it, yet I must conform. What can you do?'” These and Sandro having conveniently been a designer, you get the feeling that this is no more subtle than an Oliver Stone movie. But Oliver Stone is brilliant – so what’s the deal? It must come back to how the story is told, how the themes are woven into that and what the characters are like and here, they are whining, preening numpties! Fine… if it were the Coen Brothers showing us that and taking them down and laughing at them but this film thinks they’re misunderstood and thereby fascinating. Maybe Sandro is given enough rope but clearly we are meant to root for Claudia and she’s just an easily manipulated, badly written idiot!
On the plus side, the compositions and Aldo Scavarda‘s cinematography are immaculate, this was a key film that rewrote the visual language of cinema and there’s no taking away that the off-kilter angles and pinpoint precise shots and lighting carry the film, head and shoulders above 99% of the competiton. It is also well acted – Ferzetti and Vitti are clearly romantic superstars of a very European ilk!
With Fritz Lang’s M (1931), I can see what was so daring about it’s sympathetic child killer and if someone said; ‘you have to understand that in it’s day it was shocking’, I could appreciate that. In the cold light of 56 years hence, L’avventura‘s insufferable characters and non-story just show it up.
*[See the extras for Criterion’s L’avventura release and you’ll see his name in there. So, one assumes he’s a big fan]