L’AVVENTURA (1960)

Tiredness and waiting, even despair, are the attitudes of the body. No one has gone further in this direction than Antonioni. His method: the interior through behavior, no longer experience, but “what remains of past experiences”, “what comes afterwards, when everything has been said”, such a method necessarily proceeds via the attitudes and postures of the body.” 

– Deleuze

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Psycho was released in the same year as L’Avventura. They seem, at first glance, to share some of the same concerns. Yet the similarities are merely surface-deep; in Psycho, we witness Marion Crane’s terrible death, the following investigation, and the solving of her murder, even if we cannot comprehend the maniacal psychology behind it. In L’Avventura, there is no such moment of reckoning. There is no murder, nor is there a true mystery. In fact, the possibilities of the film are endless. This was the true moment cinema came of age. It is tiring to imagine a world before L’Avventura.

The title is either a piece of deep comedy, or something else entirely. This is not, of course, an adventure of the body, nor one of narrative construction. We believe, initially, cynically, that we have seen such a story before. But this is not a film about a lost woman. This is the story of the disappearance of a disappearance; the passing of time, even a relatively ephemeral passing, and the destruction of memory. This is an entropic concern. What at first seems of the utmost importance shrivels into insignificance. Even a great tragic happening, the disappearance of a loved one, is a mere distraction; vanished Anna is essentially erased, as the lusts and needs of a life continued consume each character in turn.

There are two key destabilizing forces in L’Avventura: Antonioni’s wonderful cinematography of space and his treatment of time. These are the elements, far away from the happenings on screen, which make up the ‘adventure’. The great liberty of Antonioni’s spaces allow for seemingly boundless reflection. There is, it seems, humanity, and then there is everything else. And if we take this notion to its natural conclusion, it seems to us that Anna has been consumed by the landscape. Nature has taken her. This is a much more troubling notion than a man psychologically infected with his own mother’s bloodlust.

And there is a troubling lack of human centrality here. Claudia and Sandro float from place to place, never truly connecting with any one landscape, never truly searching for their friend. The dramatic contours of the island yield to city streets, hotel rooms, a bell-tower. Human interaction, as much as it is, occurs on the borders of the frame, or in altering perspective; Sandro in the extreme foreground, for instance, and Claudia lounging beyond, her back to the viewer. We come, also, to know her lovely body: the curve of a neck, the basin of an ear, details of a human figure that cinema had, until this point, kept hidden from us. But sex, it seems, is just another distraction. Like Severine in Bunuel’s Belle de Jour, perhaps a return to the primordial violence and danger of sexuality is all that can save them. The expensive prostitute who seduces Sandro intentionally rips her skirt to attract male attention; hers is a dangerous game, one that Claudia could never dream of, yet one that could, perhaps, draw her out of her listlessness.

By the end of the film, Claudia becomes convinced that Anna has reappeared, seeking revenge. Again, Antonioni dangles a conclusion; a return, or even a vision of Anna, would have been the finale of choice for a lesser director, concerned with a lesser purpose. As it is, Antonioni leaves us in his cruel limbo. Instead, the film winds down to almost a standstill, so that by its end there is nothing but the jagged edges of these characters, and the ineradicable display of nature; Sandro weeping on the bench, Claudia standing behind him, unsure whether to pity this contemptible figure, Mount Etna in the background, another island.

How we are supposed to feel is never explained; how you feel is part of your experience of the film. You will probably be bored to fucking tears by this point. If so, you may have understood the film more genuinely than anybody.

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