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L'avventura (1961)

Anna (Lea Massari), a woman engaged in a troubled love affair, takes anocean cruise with a yacht full of rich passengers. When they disembark ona small island near Sicily, Anna disappears and, for much of the film, thewoman's best friend Claudia (Monica Vitti) and Anna's lover Sandro(Gabriele Ferzetti) search for her, while dealing with the emotional impactof her disappearance.

L'Avventura (1960), which translates to "the adventure," is alandmark film in the international art cinema for its dramaticallyunconventional storyline, which rambles from Sandro and Claudia's searchfor Anna, to their own developing love affair. Eventually the film becomesa more amorphous tale of human alienation and incommunicability.

Long before it was fashionable, film pioneer Michelangelo Antonioni traffickedin a kind of modern ennui later examined by contemporary directors likeNeil LaBute and Steven Soderbergh. Critic Pauline Kael called the film"upper-class neo-realism -- the poetry of moral and spiritual poverty." Thefilm marked the initial collaboration between Antonioni and stage actressMonica Vitti, who, like Jean-Luc Godard's Anna Karina or Josef vonSternberg's Marlene Dietrich, would go on to appear as Antonioni's muse ina number of productions and to embody his mood of troubledalienation.

That failure of characters to connect was a theme Antonioni masterfullyreiterated in the look of L'Avventura, a film as visually innovativeas it was thematically rich. Refusing to use conventions of the classicalHollywood cinema like point-of-view shots, Antonioni thus frustrated his audience's identification with his characters. Using the widescreen frame to effective ends, Antonioni had his actors spread out across the frame to emphasize their physical and emotional distancefrom each other. Such existential chilliness could also be attributed to aproduction that ran months over schedule, so that summer scenes had to beshot in wintertime.

L'Avventura was the first film in Antonioni's loose trilogyincluding La Notte (1961) and The Eclipse (1962), films whichshared a thematic interest in what critic William S. Pechter calls "thedeath of feeling."

For Pechter, "L'Avventura's importance lies not in any technicalinnovation but in its giant appropriation for the film medium of aterritory of psychological subtlety and emotional nuance previously thoughtexclusively to belong to the novel."

When it was screened at the 1960 Cannes Film Festival, L'Avventurawas greeted with hisses and boos. Present at that screening, criticPenelope Houston was disturbed to note audience members yelling "cut!" whenshots were thought to go on too long and jeering rudely during love scenes.Though he had made five previous films, that volatile Cannes screeningsignaled Antonioni's true arrival on the international film scene. Anddespite that angry reception, he later won both a Cannes Special Jury Awardand the Critics' Award. Unused to the free-form, unresolved structure ofthe film and Antonioni's refusal to court emotional involvement with hisprotagonists, audiences and some critics often found the film frustratinglyincomprehensible and pretentious. Many remarked upon the frustration ofClaudia and Sandro eventually giving up their search for Anna, and a senseof disconnection between the film's initial promised "adventure," and thebulk of the film, which never returns to that mystery. That free-formstructure was acknowledged as a conscious working method by Antonioni whoconceded "I never know where I will arrive with a picture."

Befuddling to audiences and offensive to censors, the distinct moral ambiguity of L'Avventura earned the film a "condemned" rating by the National League of Decency, obviously due in part to the joyless, mechanical way that many of the characters go about lovemaking. Many were simply perplexed by the film, including the New York Timescritic Bosley Crowther who wrote in his review "What Michelangelo Antonioni... is trying to get across in this highly touted Italian mystery drama isa secret he seems to be determined to conceal from the audience."

Yet, despite the initially hostile reception of the film, 35 critics and filmmakersincluding Roberto Rossellini recognized the unprecedented artistic visionof L'Avventura and issued a statement of support for thismisunderstood film. In France, it was one of the biggest commercialsuccesses of the year. Today L'Avventura is considered amasterpiece, and has been declared one of the ten best films of all time ina Sight and Sound International Critics Poll.

Producer: Cino del Duca
Director: Michelangelo Antonioni
Screenplay: Michelangelo Antonioni
Cinematography: Aldo Scavarda
Production Design: Piero Poletto
Music: Giovanni Fusco
Cast: Monica Vitti (Claudia), Gabriele Ferzetti (Sandro), Lea Massari (Anna), Dominique Blanchar (Giulia), James Addams (Corrado), Renzo Ricci (Anna's Father).
BW&C-144m. Letterboxed.

by Felicia Feaster

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