Wednesday, January 12, 2011

L'Avventura


Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 8/28/07 w/ Additional Edits & New Content.


When Italy emerged from the post-war era following the fall of Fascism, a new wave of Italian films emerged. One of those directors from this new wave known as neorealism was Michelangelo Antonioni. Working in the industry since the 40s with other iconic directors like Roberto Rossellini, he finally emerged with his feature film debut as a director in 1950 with Cronoca di un Amore (Chronicle of a Love). He would make four more feature-length films for the entire decade despite not getting any attention internationally. That would all change in 1960 where he would make a film that to this day, divide critics and film buffs over its narrative approach and filmmaking style. Yet, it would be the film that would give him the international attention and prestige he deserved that was entitled L'Avventura (The Adventure).

Written with Elio Bartolini and Tonino Guerra, L'Avventura tells the story of a boat trip with rich couples gone wrong when a passenger disappears. The disappearance of this young woman leads to a search as her lover and her best friend cope with the loss as well as the world that surrounds them. Directed by Antonioni that is also a study of alienation that would become part of a trilogy that would follow his next two features. It is the film that remains one of his great achievements, depending on the audience. Starring Monica Vitti, Gabriele Ferzetti, and Lea Massari. L'Avventura is a powerful, hypnotic, yet very haunting film from the late Italian film legend.

Going on a yachting trip, Anna (Lea Massari) joins her friend Claudia (Monica Vitti) to go to town where they would meet Anna's fiancee Sandro (Gabriele Ferzetti). While wandering around into the town including a museum, Claudia would try to look to see Anna and Sandro making love. The trio then leaves for a port to join the rest of the party in their yachting trip. They're joined by Corrado (James Addams), Guilia (Dominique Blanchar), Raimundo (Lelio Luttazzi), and Patrizia (Esmerelda Ruspoli). On their way to the volcano islands near Sicily, Anna decides to go for a swim as she's joined by members of the party. During a claim of a shark, they’re picked up as Anna talks with Claudia about her relationship with Sandro that’s become rocky lately.

Landing on a rocky island, the party minus Patrizia and Raimundo go exploring while Sandro wants to talk to Anna about their relationship. An argument ensues as Anna wants to be alone with Sandro deciding to leave her alone. Time passes by when the sea starts to get rough as the party decides to go home. Suddenly, Anna has disappeared where Corrado, Guilia, Claudia, and Sandro scour the island for a search. Things don't get better, even as Sandro finds a rocky hut as the sea is becoming more dangerous. With Corrado, Claudia, and Sandro deciding to stay, the party leaves as they go for help. Staying in the hut, they find that it's the home of a hermit (Jack O'Connell) who also hasn't seen Anna. Claudia is emotionally despondent as she wonders what Sandro has said to her.

The search continues with a coast guard helping along with Anna's father (Renzo Ricci) who asks Claudia what happened while showing him the books she had in the trip. Hoping that she's alive, they continue for a search of the island when one of coast guards arrives with a report about a boat. With Claudia choosing to stay on the island more to continue her search, Sandro decides to go to an interrogation concerning fisherman. The rest of the party decides to go to the home of a princess (Angela Tomasi di Lampedusa) for their holiday. Sandro watches the interrogation which leads to nothing as he finds Claudia at a train station on her way to rejoin the party. Despondent over what happened to Anna, Sandro takes the train with Claudia as they try to come to term with their own feelings.

Sandro stops at a station as he hopes to find more clues leading himself to both a journalist and a beautiful tourist writer named Gloria (Dorothy de Poliolo). Claudia meanwhile, feels more alone by the people around her as Guilia flirts with a 17-year old nephew (Giovanni Petrucci) of the princess as they all hope to go to another party. Claudia sees that Sandro has arrived with some ideas of Anna's whereabouts. Claudia joins Sandro as they take a trip into towns to find some clues. During this trip, the two begin to fall for each other as often ponder their own existence and the newfound loneliness they're suffering. During a stop at another town, things get stranger when Claudia, is suddenly the center of attention in a town surrounded by men.

During this stop, Claudia and Sandro stop to look at towers in the town as their emotions almost get the best of them when they're surrounded by bells. When Claudia receives word that Anna might've been in another town at a hostel, she and Sandro go where they stop at a hotel. They find that Patrizia is there as another party is held. Sandro reluctantly joins as emotions start to run high in a climax that questions the ongoing alienation between both Claudia and Sandro.

The obvious theme of alienation and isolation is definitely prominent throughout the entire film. Not just the emotional and mental isolation the protagonists are going through but also a physical and social alienation. There's a scene where Sandro and Claudia look at buildings where Sandro wonders what's going to happen to them in the next 20-30 years and will they still be there. That's an idea of what the film is about yet Antonioni is more about the human condition rather than the locations. In reality, the film is really about these two people who become connected by the disappearance of a person who has felt her own isolation.

The script isn't very plot-driven yet the way Antonioni and his writers approach the story as if the audience is part of this search and trying to figure out what has happened. The result though is something not everyone will take part of and understandably of course. The film's pacing, through its long-takes and observational shots, is definitely something that will antagonize general audiences. It's not because it's slow and at times, very pretentious but rather deliberate to emphasize what the characters are doing and responding to this horrible incident. The first act is about Anna her own disappearance leading to the on-going search. The second act is about Sandro and Claudia coming to terms and the third act being about their own alienation, their attempts to become a couple, and eventually, dealing with everything that's happened to them.

The direction of Antonioni is very hypnotic though not for everyone, particularly a general audience who will feel bored by his compositions and staging of his scenes. Yet, there's something very arty to Antonioni's direction. The compositions he makes are wonderfully shot, even through the locations he's in. The one scene where Claudia is being watched by all of those men around is truly one of the best moments in Antonioni's direction.

The film's final shot is also just as powerful into how he captures the emotions of the protagonists in this final moment. Antonioni, definitely has an eye for the locations and situations he's capturing as it's all important to the story. Even through the drama that's going on, he doesn't overplay it or dramatize it as much. He's rather playing the role as a third party observer who is trying to understand all that is going on. The end result is a powerful yet haunting film from Michelangelo Antonioni.

Cinematographer Aldo Scavarda creates wonderful imagery with the film's black-and-white photography, notably the compositions and coverage of the scenes the film is in. Scavarda’s work on the exterior settings is exquisite to convey the arty look of the film, notably the black dress that Claudia is wearing with the gray suit of Sandro. Production designer Piero Poletto creates some wonderful settings in home of the princess that included a variety of nude paintings by the prince. Costume designer Adriana Berselli also creates a distinctive look to the film that conveys its mood with the black dress of Claudia to the gray-white suit of Sandro.

Editor Eraldo De Roma brings some nice, stylized cuts to the film though its slow rhythm was deliberate to the film's tone. The sound by Claudio Maielli is also haunting with the sounds of wind in the island. Music composer Giovanni Fusco brings a suspenseful opening theme to the film while the rest of the score, which is barely heard throughout the entire film, is a soft, serene flute piece that underscores the film's melancholia.

The film's cast is wonderfully assembled that features some memorable, minor performances from Professor Cucco as Sandro's boss Ettore, Angela Tomasi Di Lampedusa, Giovanni Petrucci, Jack O'Connell, and Renzo Ricci as Anna's father. James Addams is good as the geologist-buff Corrado while Dominique Blanchar is lively as the flirtatious Guilia with Isa Bellini providing the voice for her character. Dorothy De Poliolo brings a nice, beautiful presence as writer Gloria Perkins while Lelio Luttazzi is good as Raimundo.

Esmerelda Ruspoli is good as the posh though uninteresting Patrizia who is what is expected of rich, posh women while giving Claudia some bad advice. Lea Massari is excellent as the haunting, despondent Anna who could be interpreted as a selfish bitch who toyed with the emotions of her companions. Yet, her performance is memorable though she's only in the film for the first 30 minutes but she did fulfill what was needed for her character.

Gabriele Ferzetti, probably known to American audiences as a railroad baron in Sergio Leone's classic epic-western Once Upon a Time in the West, gives an amazingly charming yet melancholic performance as Sandro. Ferzetti is a man who has redeeming qualities despite his flaws in how he treated Anna at times, and how he tries to seduce Claudia. Instead, Ferzetti chooses to mix his charm with sadness as a man who is becoming aware of his own alienation of the world around him as well as the world of upper-class Italy.

Monica Vitti is wonderful in her role as Claudia with her enchanting beauty and the presence she brings to this film. Vitti starts off as this playful friend who is then the protagonist as she is desperate to find her friend. Vitti manages to bring a mix of humor, melodrama, and intelligence to the film as it's really her film. Vitti manages to show her character's vulnerability and the ability to cope with not just loss but also her own newfound alienation as she becomes aware of the world that she lived in for all of her life is now something she couldn't relate to. Both Ferzetti and Vitti have wonderful chemistry as they give performances that are truly memorable.

***Additional DVD Content Written from 1/10/11-1/12/11***

The 2001 Region 1 2-disc DVD of L’Avventura from the Criterion Collection presents the film in a new digital transfer with restored picture and sound for widescreen televisions.  Presented in its original 1:77:1 theatrical aspect ratio for widescreen as well as Dolby Digital Mono in Italian.  With a new English subtitle translation, the film is given a look that is truly electrifying as the black-and-white cinematography of Aldo Scavarda is stunning.

The only special feature in the first disc is a full-length audio commentary track from film historian Gene Youngblood that was recorded in 1989 for the laserdisc release of the film.  Youngblood discusses Antonioni’s early career up to Red Desert, the last of which he feels is part of Antonioni’s alienation trilogy of L’Avventura, La Notte, and L’Eclisse.  Youngblood reveals that the film is really a mystery in reverse since the solution is the disappearance of Anna and the mystery more revolves around Sandro and Claudia in their own development individually and as a couple.

Youngblood also talks about why the film was so revolutionary at the time because of the long takes and importance of scenery without dialogue.  It was that approach to filmmaking that really annoyed audiences when it premiered at the 1960 Cannes Film Festival.  Yet, to film buffs, critics, and filmmakers, it was a film that was unlike anything at the time.  Even as Youngblood talks about a lot of the visual ideas that would become prominent in not just Antonioni’s work but also the way it defined European cinema in the 1960s.  Though at times, Youngblood’s commentary can be dull.  It is definitely informative to many of the ideas and themes of the film.

The second disc of the DVD includes a few special features relating to the film.  The first is a 58-minute documentary called Antonioni:  Documents and Testimonials.  The 1966 documentary produced in collaboration with a Canadian TV production company explores many of Antonioni’s themes and ideas along with his career up to the filming and release of Red Desert.  The documentary features interviews with a lot of Antonioni’s friends and collaborators.  Among them are Monica Vitti and fellow Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini who worked with Antonioni when they were making Fellini’s first film The White Sheik with Antonioni as a screenwriter.  

While it features some great insight into his work from authors and artists, at times it comes off as a bit tedious.  Though there are some great clips including a deleted scene in L’Avventura where Claudia and Sandro meet a man on their way to a town.  Other clips include Monica Vitti at the Cannes Film Festival where she talked about its harsh reception at its premiere.  Finally, there’s a great scene in which Fellini is being interviewed as he’s making Juliet of the Spirits where he talks about Antonioni.  Despite its flaws, it’s a very good documentary that profiled Antonioni at the apex of his career before he would make Blow-Up in 1966.

The second featurette in the second disc involves essays by Antonioni that is read by Jack Nicholson, who starred in Antonioni’s 1975 film The Passenger.  Also featured in the section is an interview with Nicholson about Antonioni.  The first essay entitled L’Avventura:  A Moral Adventure has Nicholson narrating Antonioni’s words about his experience making the film.  The 10-minute audio featurette has Antonioni discuss his feelings about the film and his approach as he doesn’t give any answers.  Even as he reveals that the ways of the world then is becoming old though he still has a certain amount of respect for it.

The second essay entitled Reflections on the Film Actor is about Antonioni’s views on actors.  Antonioni discusses the collaboration between actor and director as well as how to get a performance from the actor.  Yet, the director has to let the actor interpret themselves as Nicholson narrates in the six-minute audio clip.  The third audio feature is Nicholson talking about Antonioni.  Nicholson talks about the idea of working with Antonioni as he reflects about the production of The Passenger.  Even as Nicholson talks a bit about Red Desert as the overall five-minute piece is a fun story to hear.

Two other minor special futurities includes the film’s theatrical trailer and a three-and-a-half minute restoration demo about the film’s digital restoration since it took five months to restore each frame of the film that was filled with dirt and scratches.  Even as it wanted to make the images sharper and with more contrast to the colors.

Three essays appear in the booklet for the Criterion DVD set.  The first is by English film professor Geoffrey Nowell-Smith about the film, its themes, and its legacy.  Even as he talks about the characters and their motivations.  With the exception of Claudia, every character are enamored with their rich lifestyle as they live with no sense of true direction.  Nowell-Smith’s essay is definitely a great read as it gives new viewers an idea of the film and how Antonioni redefined cinema in the 1960s.  The second essay is Antonioni’s statement about the film following its notorious premiere at the 1960 Cannes Film Festival.

Antonioni talks about his film and the reaction he received from Cannes as he believes that the film is about what is going on with the world at that time.  It’s definitely a wonderful statement from a director defending his film to an audience that was unable to comprehend in what they saw.  The third and final essay is a statement about the film’s reaction at Cannes from a group of film critics, filmmakers, and members of the jury at the festival.  The brief statement praises the film as among those who signed the statement include another famed Italian filmmaker in Roberto Rossellini.  The overall work on the Criterion DVD is definitely outstanding as it is definitely given a definitive release for the great Michelangelo Antonioni.

***End of DVD Tidbits***

Released in 1960 at the Cannes Film Festival, the film won Antonioni a special jury prize despite the hostile reaction from its audience. The film would eventually be considered a landmark film for the director as well as Italian cinema. Antonioni would later follow the film with two more movies about alienation with La Notte and L'Eclisse in the next two years before making his mark as an auteur. While Antonioni would continue to make films throughout the 60s with other films Il deserto rosso and Blow-Up and later in the 70s for Zabriskie Point and The Passenger with Jack Nicholson. Antonioni was still considered an icon for international cinema until late July 2007 when he died at age 94, the same day another iconic international auteur in Ingmar Bergman had also passed away at 89.

L'Avventura is a magnificent film from the late Michelangelo Antonioni. While some might not enjoy the film's lack of plot, slow-pacing, or even the characterization of a few characters. The film is still brilliant for its eerie take on alienation and coping with loss. Those new to Antonioni will find this film as a nice place to start though his 1966 film Blow-Up is more accessible and better for its take on mid-60s Britain. Though the director is now gone, this along with his other landmark films will live on as L'Avventura still endures for its haunting imagery and eerie storytelling that couldn't come from someone as brilliant as the late Michelangelo Antonioni.

Michelangelo Antonioni Films: (Cronaca di un Amore) - (I Vinti) - (The Lady Without Camelias) - (Le Amiche) - (Il grido) - La Notte - L’Eclisse - Red Desert - Blow-Up - Zabriskie Point - (Chung Kuo, Cina) - The Passenger - (The Mystery of Oberwald) - (Identification of a Woman) - (Beyond the Clouds) - Eros-The Dangerous Thread of Things

© thevoid99 2011

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