PSA: L’avventura (1960), or We’re All About To Disappear

24 05 2009

So much has already been said about Antonioni’s groundbreaking anti-epic, L’avventura, and I don’t want to be the guy who keeps making the same points that everybody else has made a thousand times already about a movie that has been analyzed like a rare fungus, so I’ll just wander through one of the points that mean a lot to me, and perhaps they will shed some light on why this remains one of the most contended classics in cinematic history.

There are two schools of thought on L’avventura; one professes that it is a pretentious pile of shit that, like a möbius strip, begins nowhere and ends nowhere, and features characters of ill merit and minute artistic value. This school of thought emphasizes that the main plot of the film, essentially the disappearance of a friend during a holiday, is left behind about halfway through the movie and is never to find resolution. The other school of thought on this film is that it is a modern masterpiece of pacing, existentialist philosophizing, and story structure. This school of thought emphasizes that the main plot of the film, essentially the disappearance of a friend during a holiday, is left behind about halfway through the movie and is never to find resolution. Now, we can- HUH!?! Wait, what?

That’s right, both camps agree that the abandonment of the ever-so important plot thread is integral to the understanding of the movie. Where they differ is the meaning. Most people I have come across find the lack of resolution lazy, as if Antonioni could not be bothered to explain the disappearance of the friend, Anna, or it just didn’t matter enough to the film to see her returned alive or dead to the arms of her family and friends. It seems plausible, but let’s think about this for a minute.

How many movies do you know that resolve all the questions at the end of them? About 99% of them, if you stick to the standard Hollywood fare. Even bad movies can answer all the questions they pose for themselves (look at Mr. Accident). Creating opposition for protagonists and then having them deal with said opposition is so simple that even Michael Bay can do it, and if his lazy scripts can make it from A to B, then perhaps sloth isn’t the issue here. It could be said that not resolving plot lines can be more difficult, especially when so much emphasis is placed upon that plot line in the beginning (Let’s not delve too much into minor plot threads left unresolved, as sometimes that CAN be a lack of attentiveness, or downright laziness). So perhaps the lack of resolution on such an important issue can be seen as a message to the audience, a wordless central theme that is not spoken about, but is certainly present all the way throughout the film.

Now, what is it that happens to Anna? She disappears. We never hear from her again. The rest of the film follows her friends, Claudia and Sandro, drifting in and out of their lives, trying to exist in the world with everyone else but ultimately being too scarred and dissatisfied with themselves to cope with everyday life. They are wracked with guilt over their missing friend at first (Sandro was Anna’s lover, and once she disappeared he and Claudia began seeing each other), but what it really boils down to is their unhappiness with themselves, the disappearance of their friend set as a backdrop to their own self-disgust. Anna’s real purpose in the plot was to open up the raw emotions of the characters of Claudia and Sandro, clawing through their phony happiness and into their real selves, which are on the verge of evanescing into the ether along with their friend. L’avventura is an existential movie about disappearance, both real and metaphorical; the failing of all emotions, including love and hate, in the wake of the empty and indifferent stare of eventual invisibility.

Or something like that. Anyway, I think it is a wonderful movie that needs to be remembered in the highest echelons of filmdom, never to vanish with its main characters. To me, it is a companion piece to Antoioni’s other amazing film, Blow-Up. Watch them together, and you might just learn a little something about yourself in the process. I give it 10 Mr. Accidents out of 10. I loved it!!!!

Keep an eye out later today for my review of Angels and Demons!