I am a big fan of Antonioni but watching L’Avventura left me with mixed feelings. There are scenes of profound sincerity and poignancy. There are also scenes of awkward, mundane action – which is one of Antonioni’s hallmarks and works perfectly in films like La Notte, but here I just do not feel it serves any purpose. There is also some clumsy acting – Monica Vitti as the devoted but gullible Claudia is as radiant as ever, but occasionally she is out of her depth. Gabriele Ferzetti, as the handsome and capricious Sandro, is experienced and confident, but seems miscast – I can’t help but wonder what Marcello Mastroianni could have done with this role.
Whatever the shortfallings, this is a film of breathtaking beauty. The choice of locations is impeccable, and architecture is as important as in all of Antonioni’s films. Sandro (a failed architect) even has a brief monologue where he marvels at the beauty of Italian renaissance architecture and laments its demise. He concludes: “Who needs beautiful things anymore?”, using modernism and mass production as an excuse for his own failings. Piero Poletto, Antonioni’s regular designer, is at his best here. He creates lavish interiors for the functions of the film’s privileged socialites, and juxtaposes them with harsh, unforgiving natural landscapes. The rocks of the Aeolian islets where Anna disappears is where the existential adventure begins. Poletto’s work on this film might not be as impressive as the handpainted locations of Red Desert, but is equally evocative and perhaps even more functional on a symbolic level; the stark contrast of the settings perfectly illustrates and amplifies the emotional conflicts of the film’s characters.
I guess this is the kind of film that the term “flawed masterpiece” was coined for. Regardless of its strengths and weaknesses, it was ultimately great to watch a film where the director does not feel the need (or the producer’s pressure) to explain what happens in the end. In a time of easy solutions and happy endings, it was a refreshing experience.