Monica Vitti - Photo credit BK.
L’Avventura is filled with affluence.
People are very rich.
There's no clear story. The screen is filled with ambiguous, dead emotions, conflicted, existentialist characters.
We're watching a the devaluation of human relationships. The commoditization of feelings. An attack on values. The film evokes an emotional vacuum.
So how does Antonioni achieve that?
I focus on a number of key moments, deconstructing Antonioni’s use of sound, photography, performance, and mise en scène, in manufacturing these vacuous feelings in the audience.
Before the Trip
Sandro is unable to fulfill Anna’s needs. Notice her belittling smile on 00:07:23. And her expression of disaffection in the following sex scene.
For Anna, sex with Sandro is only worthwhile with someone waiting outside. Here the camera exposes the couple in a room with an open window with Claudia in the view.
Anna can't forget the lack of meaning in her life. She yells "why-why-why". She tries to feel something by indulging in casual exhibitionism. Which per her expression is not working.
Subsequently, Claudia is isolated by the camera from below. To show she has been left alone. Compounded by her expression of "oh well..".
On the Boat
The rich are capricious. As the yacht captain says, they have no clear plan. Their aimless wanderings keep the seamen up all night. Again, Anna is trying to escape the bore, by yelling "shark".
This emotion is heightened by sharing the adventure with Claudia.
Claudia and Anna indulge in conversation of null statements on how they slept that night. Establishing them as vacuous characters – later Giulia is accused of being "literal".
Later, there is a sexual charge in the conversation. Giulia’s husband attests his woman is made for all kinds of vice, yet is faithful because of lazy idleness. Words compounded by the visuals of his knife pointing upward like a penis under the table (00:21.35).
Once again Claudia is the third person in the room, when the man’s approach to touch Giulia - is responded to by disinterest.
Long shots isolate the coldness and beauty on the death wish island with characters a) framed out of balance b) appearing into the frame from below c) in close-up.
Here the camera avoids making statements on power relations; the tensions are not so much between the characters than between the emptiness of the landscape and people.
The ambivalence of the camera does not force the viewer down a certain path. As if the camera was unmotivated to move at all – Anna is gone and nobody cares. The imagery is nothing sort of iconic – an island, a hurricane approaching.
The emptiness of modern lives is externalized by the stares into the void; there is nothingness outside the frame, and the stares are into emptiness, compounded by self-absorbed sterile acting, seemingly out of connection with their emotions.
There is a single desolate building in the landscape. Sandro has forgotten to bring a candle, so selfish seems he that he can offer no warmth. There is no non-diegetic sound during the beginning 30 minutes on the island to guide the emotions. With the exception of Claudia everybody loses interest in finding Anna.
A casual moral flexibility was visualized by Sandro trying to kiss Claudia on the boat. While sleeping Claudia plays with her lips (00:42:30) making a connection with the kiss.
The ease with what Anna’s death is forgotten and the Claudia’s struggle to let go is the mayor conflict of the film. The McGuffin, to use Hitchcock’s term, for the rest of the film is Anna’s disappearance but her internal conflict also ends up haunting the whole film.
In the Gallery
Giulia externalizes the emancipated active woman, seducing a boy without regrets towards betraying her marriage.
Irrespectful of the age difference, the young boy is feasting with his eyes the older woman (01:22:37) while the music gives the scene a feel of conquest.
The affluent backdrop of the manor adds to the feeling of decadent splendor and indifference. For the third time Claudia is the third person in the room.
Italian architecture is used to create a feeling of detachment associated with beauty. We are looking at the church made of concrete.
There is no access to the church because the caretaker has gone away. Claudia calls the old village of Noto a cemetery. A man in Napoli spits on the French beach-going tourists.
Sandro who was so far just a playboy hedonist is revealed as a man who exchanged his would-be genius as a creative architect for riches as an underwriter (his internal conflict is externalized on 01:51:58 where Sandro ruins the drawings of a young architect).
Sandro is on a search for fulfillment, yet he is never able to give any woman what she wants. He has become transitory – his failure as a creative has led to his opportunistic shallowness which permeates the film.
The realization that Sandros takes the easiers routes, foreshadows the idea that Sandro is unable to fulfill the needs of any woman who is looking for commitment.
Music appears strongly in the last scenes, which feel much more constructed. Claudia is too tired to go to the party but she cannot sleep. Now she is framed in a doorway (02:11:20) isolated by the camera to express her confinement, and now we see her in the mirror – she is disintegrating and cannot take herself seriously.
Claudia runs to a balcony but is stopped by the ledge (which looks like the bars of a prison cell), in the other direction she encounters another ledge. In the light of the outside world she is just a shadow (underexposed). In the hallway she is a tiny figure and her steps sound empty in the vastness of the room.
In the end of the sequence Claudia escapes through a glass (mirror) doorway seemingly liberating her from her confinement of the building. Subsequently she finds Sandro in the caress of another woman (the climax). But now having been liberated we see her from below and Sandro from above in his misery.
The Last Scene
A close-up of Claudia’s hand with lyrical music (to-be-or-not-to-be), and the caress of her hand through Sandro’s hair. Claudia seen from below, a church-like building behind her, and an open sky above her – she had mentioned her humble upbringing – there is forgiveness.
Unlike in Hollywood formulas, there is little resolve. The wasted search is leading to nothing. While there seems to be forgiveness, the lack of a clear ending makes the film feel real. Human relationships can be random. And Sandro’s inability to commit is something male viewers can identify with. The shallowness of casual love is expressed in his character.
L’Avventura has modern coolness in contrast to the teary-eyed actualities of neorealist masterpieces (Umberto D, the Bicycle Thief) or the fresh air of the French New Wave (400 Blows).
The emptiness was perhaps intended as a critique but we have – or at least I have –grown to love that vacuum. The self-indulgence of the individual emancipating from the rules of tradition charged with contemporary preoccupations, that Antonioni shows, I can identify with.
FYI, this is one my favorite films, ever. You can buy L'Avventura on Amazon. And read the original 1961 review by Bosley Crowther of the New York Times.∎ Back to Index