Sunday, January 18, 2009

Film Ignorance #22: L'Avventura

Film: L'Avventura
Rating: Yep, It's a Classic
Director: Michaelangelo Antonioni
Stars: Gabriele Ferzetti, Lea Massari, Monica Vitt
Year: 1960
Reason for Ignorance: Didn't Like Blow-Up

Ignorance Rating*: Pending
“Why, why, why?

When Antonioni passed away, I was confronted with the fact that I'd never seen any of his films, so I watched the one I had heard the most about: Blow-Up. But Blow-Up sucks. It's a crappy movie (pretentious, draggy, pointless) which, like Ben-Hur or The Red Shoes, is built around an amazing sequence, in this case a photographer enlarging a seemingly innocent picture he took and discovering a potential murder plot. Needless to say, after feeling so contemptuous of Blow-Up, I didn't seek out anymore Antonioni.

But L'Avventura is an excellent film, maybe even the masterpiece it's cracked up to be. What's more, even though it's a 2.5 hour long plotless foreign art house film with aspirations of profundity, I actually enjoyed the experience. It's the story of Sandro and Claudia, who, along with Sandro's moody and unpredictable girlfriend Anna (who is Claudia's best friend) and a bunch of decadent elites, go for a summer boat trip. The group stops at one of a series of barren islands, Anna goes off on her own...and disappears. No one knows if its a prank, suicide, a kidnapping; she's just gone.

Film theorist David Bordwell argues that, although art cinema shares with Hollywood cinema an interest in "psychological causation," "the characters of the art cinema lack defined desires and goals." It's no surprise that L'Avventura is one of his examples. We don't know why Anna was so rude on the trip, why she seemed dissatisfied with Sandro, and why she ran away (as everyone suspects her of doing). We don't know why Sandro looks so hard for her, why Claudio and Sandro are so attracted to each other during their search, or why they feel so guilty about their attraction to one another, in the face of Anna's probable actions. We're wandering in a field of questions without answers, and can do more than follow along with the characters, observing their thoughts and feelings, unable to comprehend them, and unable to stop trying to comprehend.

And what a field it is we're wandering through! I said I enjoyed this movie - it's because of the gorgeous black-and-white photography. The first hour transforms the sea and its rocky islands into haunting and mysterious locations; they're so crisply barren that I myself wanted to jump off a cliff. And the rest of the movie is devoted to architecture; Claudia and Sandro (a failed architect) travel from small town to small town, and Antonioni manages to make the ancient architecture they find in small-town Italy seem even more desolate and lacking in humanity than uninhabited islands. The landscapes are what make this film, and what shape its characters; the bleakness of the settings are the closest thing we get to an answer to all the "whys?" we're asking. That, of course, and the total vacuousness of the society that Sandro and Anna traveled in: a preening, image-conscious, and self-obsessed collection of artistes and elites.

Through this wasteland of people and places, Sandro and Claudia try to find something worthwhile to hold on to. They eventually seek that worthwhile thing in each other. Although I've seen the entire film, I still don't know if they succeed.

Now that's art house.

*The "Ignorance Rating" is the percentage of people who voted "Yes" on the poll for this film. If ten people vote in the poll, and 5 of them have seen the movie, I give it an ignorance rating of 50. It's just a ballpark way for me to know how egregious my ignorance was in this case.


MovieMan0283 said...

Glad you liked this. I was impressed on first viewing, but also kind of distanced and not sure what I thought of it. But it grows in hindsight and on repeated viewings. And just when I thought I had a handle on it, I saw it on the big screen where it is even more undigestable! I also recommend L'Eclisse and (if you can find it) Red Desert, which are equally gorgeous.

Zabriskie Point is extremely pretentious (if you though Blow-Up was pretentious, juuuuust wait...) but it has one of the greatest endings in cinema (I posted it on my blog in December, it's the first post of the month entitled "Apropos of nothing" and you can watch it because it doesn't really have anything to do with the rest of the plot).

I think you're too hard on Blow-Up but I didn't like it when I first saw it either, finding it pretentious and dated. My opinion improved over time, helped in part by a growing obsession with the time period, so that it's "dated" qualities came to be highlights rather than detriments (that's the Yardbirds playing in the concert scene, by the way - at the time when Jeff Beck AND Jimmy Page were in the group!)

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I'm 26 years old, so I couldn't watch this film when he did its debut, nonetheless my mother has told me it is one of the greatest classics of all times, inclusive overcoming Casablanca. what do you think about it??
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