Film Appreciation: L’Avventura

Film Appreciation: L’Avventura

The major premise behind Thinking Cinema is that film develops as a continuum. Current filmmakers benefit from the accomplishments of those who came before and, in turn, inspire future filmmakers. There is a distinct chance that earlier works may be taken for granted, absent a concerted effort to regularly view and appreciate them.

To some extent, I think this process explains the uneven fortunes of Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1960 film, L’Avventura. It premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, where it won a Jury Prize. L’Avventura caused a sensation with its unconventional narrative structure, rigorous visual composition, and its theme of isolation.

The story deals with a group of young people who set off on a yacht cruise to the Mediterranean. Lovers Anna (Lea Massari) and Sandro (Gariele Ferzetti) have a stormy relationship. They have a terse discussion, and Anna vanishes. Sandro and Anna’s friend Claudia (Monica Vitti) conduct a search for her. As they spent more time together, Sandro and Claudia alternatively indulge and fight a mutual attraction.

What comes across to the viewer is the uncommon visual intensity of this film. Aldo Scarvarda’s black and white cinematography is stunning. Veteran editor Eraldo Da Roma (Bicycle Thieves, Rome, Open City) does a remarkable job here. He maintains dramatic tension while also investing the reader in a storyline almost completely devoid of the usual cinematic beats.

L’Avventura premiered at the dawn of the French and British New Waves, a time of changing moral and social values. In 1962, Sight and Sound placed it second on its list of greatest films. The film ranked fifth in 1972 and seventh in 1982. On the most current list, L’Avventura appears in a three-way tie for twenty-first (with Godard’s Le Mépris and Coppola’s The Godfather, Part I).

The Sight and Sound list is being used here because it gives a fairly concise picture of the changes in L’Avventura’s status. The film continues to have its fans, but it also has a number of detractors. Geoff Andrew of Time Out said of it, “…if it once seemed the ultimate in arty, intellectually chic movie-making, the film now looks all too studied and remote a portrait of emotional sterility.”

I suspect two factors are at work here. L’Avventura’s story hints at disorientation with an existing social framework. Antonioni never bothers to describe that framework, because everyone was familiar with it in 1960. As the decades wore on, traditions gave way to modern lifestyles. What seemed revolutionary in 1960 now comes across as quaint and a bit obvious.

We also have to consider the fluid nature of film and its development. It is interesting to look at the latest Sight and Sound list to see some of the films made after L’Avventura that now outrank it.

Sixth place goes to 2001: A Space Odyssey. Director Stanley Kubrick included Antonioni’s film La Notte on his top ten list of favorite films. Federico Fellini, director of tenth place film 8 ½, enjoyed a warm personal relationship with Antonioni. Francis Ford Coppola (Apocalypse Now, in fourteenth place) reflected Antonioni’s influence when he made The Conversation in 1974. Both Jean-Luc Godard (Breathless, thirteenth place) and Andrei Tarkovsky (Mirror, nineteenth place) have sited Antonioni as an influence.

Antonioni continues to inspire filmmakers today. You can find his influence in the work of such directors as Abbas Kiarostami, Terrence Malick, Sophia Coppola, and Shane Carruth.

L’Avventura is essential viewing, both for the film itself and for the films it inspired.

Theme: Missing Persons

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Senses of Cinema:

Time Out:

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