A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Thursday, May 26, 2016

L'Avventura (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1960)

The ironic title -- an "adventure" in which nothing adventurous occurs -- is enough to establish L'Avventura as one of the most subversive films ever made. It subverts narrative by never resolving its initial mystery, the disappearance of Anna (Lea Massari). And as a film about sex, it is notably anti-erotic. Antonioni's (and his cinematographer Aldo Scavarda's) camera is in love with Monica Vitti's Claudia, exploring her unconventional beauty in extended closeups. It is the "male gaze" -- the objectifying, depersonalizing view of women -- at its utmost. But then Antonioni subverts the male gaze by two scenes in which it is exposed in full and repellent play: The first is when the would-be celebrity Gloria Perkins (Dorothy De Poliolo) causes a near-riot in the streets of Messina. The second, more bitter scene comes when Claudia, having left Sandro (Gabriele Ferzetti) to fetch Anna from the hotel in Noto where she thinks she may be staying, begins to be surrounded by more and more men, like a pack of feral dogs, casting eager, exploring stares at her. The sex in L'Avventura is troubled, like that between Anna and Sandro that earlier had left Claudia standing alone and idle in another street. Or the relationship of Claudia and Sandro that develops after Anna's disappearance, leaving neither of them particularly eager to find her. In the end, Sandro proves incapable of remaining faithful to Claudia, all too ready to ease his boredom with, of all people, Gloria Perkins, who returns to prowl the hotel in Taormina in search of paying customers. Before their liaison, Sandro is eyed by a woman who stands in front of a painting of Roman Charity, in which a woman breastfeeds an elderly man, a scene that blurs the distinction between charity and lust. After Claudia discovers Sandro and Gloria in flagrante, she flees the hotel in tears, followed by Sandro, and the film concludes with a scene in which her gestures, stroking his hair as he weeps, demonstrate her own form of charity -- or is it lust? L'Avventura presents us with a world in which the conventional and expected word and action never takes place. It was fashionable at the time the film was released to say that it was a depiction of alienation and ennui. But films about alienation and ennui invariably wind up alienating and boring, as many of the subsequent films made under its influence (including some of Antonioni's own) tediously demonstrated. L'Avventura didn't point out a viable direction for other movies, but it remains, like many great films, sui generis.