NOTE: I was originally planning to write this review, but convinced my girlfriend Ashley (who loves the film a lot more than I do) to write this one. Make sure to let her know what you think in the comments and follow her on twitter @filmcynic.
Director: Michelangelo Antonioni
Cast: Monica Vitti, Gabrielle Ferzetti, Lea Massari, Dorothy DePoliolo
Ashley’s Rating: 10/10
Michelangelo Antonioni’s The Adventure (in Italian: L’avventura) is one of my favorite movies. I’ve seen it six times, and every time I watch it I feel the thrill we’ve all experienced of realizing how brilliant cinema can be, and how it can emotionally move you and make you think. L’avventura is definitely a film that has provoked hours of thought for me. It is a lot more clever, smart and intelligent than it first appears, and every detail is smoothly perfect, well thought out and mysterious.
The story is about a young woman named Anna (Lea Massari, mysterious and emotionless), who is partying on a yacht with friends, including her best friend Claudia (Monica Vitti, whose hair I will always envy) and her boyfriend Sandro (Gabriele Ferzetti). At first it appears that this is Anna’s story, but after the group disembark on an island of jagged rocks, cliff faces and disquieting serenity, she soon disappears and is never seen again. Everyone searches frantically for her, but she is nowhere to be found. Antonioni is smart; it was not until I saw the film for the third time that I noticed a clever shot of a small boat, incredibly easy to miss, mere seconds after we last see her. The section of the film following her disappearance is visually brilliant; the cinematography is stellar, superb in creating a feeling of isolation on an island that the cast and crew actually found themselves stuck on during shooting.
The mystery of Anna’s disappearance envelops the first half of the film, which consists of little more than the search itself and the initial shock and consequences of her sudden vanishing. Her last scene is an argument between her and Sandro. She says she wants spend some time alone. The obvious conclusion is that she has run away. But… but… Antonioni manages to make us unsure. Even the most obvious conclusion seems inconclusive. He doesn’t want us to focus on her disappearance; instead, on the consequences of it.
The film’s next turn is the famous scene that really comes out of nowhere, completely unexpectedly, in which Sandro runs into Claudia and passionately kisses her. When I first saw the film, I was taken aback and shocked by this. But after seeing it more times, I’ve realized that it makes more and more sense. Sandro is a deeply distraught man; not distraught because of Anna’s disappearance, but simply because of his rejection of — or rather, his inability to love. He wants to be able to form some kind of connection with someone, but seems fraught and repulsed by the emotions that come with it. When Anna disappears, he clings to Claudia. In one scene near the end of the film, he says that he loves her. When she asks him to say it again, he says he doesn’t love her. Then he changes his mind another time and says he loves her. This is minutes before he cheats on her by bedding a prostitute, and then chases Claudia into the street and cries as she places a hand, pitifully, on his shoulder. Sandro is emotionally isolated, pessimistic. In his world happiness something difficult to attain and not worth trying for. Antonioni communicates this to us early on: the last words Anna speaks are to Sandro: “You always have to vilify everything!”
L’avventura is the most beautiful movie I have ever seen, and also the ugliest. Antoinioni has a funny way of comparing the two, and blending them together to make them feel like the same thing. Beauty is ugly and ugliness is beautiful. One scene that proves this point is the scene where Sandro and Claudia make love in the grass. It something beautiful they’re doing, but there is a quiet moody theme of desperation and disgust during the scene. A few of the scenes where they’re together are like that. The bond they feel for each other is matched by some unnerving feeling of sadness. They are caught in a relationship that happened so quickly they never really had time to process their feeelings for each other. Deep into their relationship, Claudia is afraid that Anna will show up out of the blue and discover them together, much like she discovers Sandro with the whore. Their relationship is a lie, and they are a couple clearly not made for each other. L’avventura explores this, and other things, moving slowly and making no judgments on the characters. They are lonely, isolated people who struggle to communicate, and the connections they make with each other, no matter how profound and beautiful they may seem, are really just sad and empty.