Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 10, 2014)
As I noted in my review of 1968’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, the slow pace of that film can really throw off viewers, and I was among those who needed repeated screenings of it to really grasp its point. Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1960 flick L’Avventura seems to fall into the same category. While that may bode well for future viewings of the movie, it meant that my initial examination of the piece was a rough ride.
In L’Avventura - which can be translated as either “The Adventure” or “The Fling” according to the liner notes - the story follows some bored, idle rich folks. Anna (Lea Massari) plans to reunite with her boyfriend Sandro (Gabriele Ferzetti) and go on a boat escapade with some friends, including Claudia (Monica Vitti). Although Anna hasn’t seen Sandro for months, she feels no joy about their reunification, and she seems reluctant to even bother with the trip.
Nonetheless, she does take the journey, and all seems fine for a while. However, about a third of the way through the movie, Anna disappears without explanation. For the remainder of the picture, the others - mainly Sandro and Claudia - attempt to locate her.
Well, they sort of try to find her. Frankly, their efforts quickly become half-hearted, and the two cultivate a romance of their own. Anna’s presence hangs over this affair, but it doesn’t stop it, as the pair continue to go through some motions in their search but they really don’t seem to care.
Like I stated at the start of this review, I’d never seen L’Avventura before I got the 2001 DVD, and I knew little about it prior to that screening. This seems to be the kind of film that needs repeated viewings to become more compelling.
Unfortunately, I was so bored throughout the movie that I felt little interest in attempting further explorations of it and hadn’t seen it between 2001 and the release of this 2014 Blu-ray. I can’t say the intervening years have done much to change my impression of the film. While L’Avventura offers some interesting techniques, the story lacks much to interest the viewer.
Granted, that was part of director Michelangelo Antonioni’s point. He was a pioneer of the “neorealist” style of filmmaking, one that attempted to remove much of the artificially theatrical elements of movies.
Unlike traditional flicks that are story-oriented and consistently work toward a certain end, this style of film works at a more leisurely pace, and it doesn’t always bother to offer material that serves the plot. Things happen and they don’t always - or even usually - have any form of deeper meaning.
I’m all for this kind of style, as I think it’s an interesting way to approach movies. Too many films telegraph their intentions and meanings too harshly, and it’s good to see some that make things more vague.
This means I really like the lack of consistent narrative focus found in L’Avventura and the fact it doesn’t heavily emphasize certain events. I admire films that leave things up to the viewer to a large degree, and that’s definitely the case here.
However, I think that if this kind of movie will work best, it really needs to have a strong story onto which it can hang its hat. If we’re to watch something that doesn’t attempt to badger us with its plot, then the underlying tale needs to be clear enough so that we can ignore it. This may seem odd, and perhaps I’m not explaining myself well, but I feel that if the director wants to let a story veer off on its own path, then the framework that underlies the tale needs to be sturdy.
I don’t think that’s the case with L’Avventura. As a mystery, it lacks suspense or involvement. As a character piece, it fails to provide great depth or insight.
According to the liner notes on the 2001 DVD, “Antonioni’s penetrating study of the idle upper class offers stinging observations on spiritual isolation and the many meanings of love”. Umm… okay. Frankly, I think it delivers an exercise in the obvious.
We’re supposed to be surprised when we learn that the idle rich are empty and shallow? That seems to be the movie’s main point, but if that’s the best it can do, then I’m not sure why it bothers. It’s not exactly a shock to learn that people whose lives revolve around parties and frivolity aren’t exactly deep.
The prevailing Italian filmmaking techniques of the era don’t help. Virtually all the audio of L’Avventura got recreated later, so this means neither dialogue nor effects came from the shoot. This becomes a distraction, especially in terms of the speech. The lines sound so canned and phony that they don’t integrate well with the action – and in a movie that strives for realism, the lack of natural dialogue creates a deficit.
L’Avventura nicely communicates the emptiness of the characters’ lives, as it lets us experience this firsthand. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make for the world’s most compelling film.
Frankly, I think it works better as a cinematic experiment than as an engrossing piece of work. L’Avventura still inspires heaps of praise, and people seem to feel that it brings us a rich, incisive work. I continue to disagree, as I think the points made by the characterizations seem so obvious that they provide nothing new. While L’Avventura makes an admirable attempt to broaden cinematic horizons, the result seem slow and meandering.