Italian for “adventure,” the title is very ironic.
The Film: Michelangelo Antonioni’s examination of middle class boredom and post-war malaise
The Potable: One six-pack of New Belgium Trippel ale
I stumbled across a listicle the other day. David Fincher’s favorite, must-see films. It’s packed with – some pretty predictable choices, actually, including one of my personal favorites. L’Avventura is not on the list, but I wanted to watch it anyway, so I shopped around a little and found that the Antonioni classic is on Martin Scorsese’s list. And listen, when the voice of Sykes from Shark Tale tells you to watch a movie, you watch that movie.
Antonioni’s masterpiece opens on a boatload of wealthy urbanites, all horny and young. They’re off to a secluded island in the Mediterranean for the day, though, frankly, not the kind of island I would have chosen. No palm trees, no taco truck. I don’t think there’s even a goddamn beach. It’s all rock and seacliffs. Sharks and maybe a goat a two. Danger around every corner. Not relaxing.
One of the vacationers, Anna, evidently agrees with me, bailing about 45 minutes into the movie. This is the first (!) plot point and it’s discussed as a disappearance, though it seems pretty clear to me that she just went looking for better friends and a chimichanga. A police investigation ensues, but none of the officers involved are exactly gunning for a promotion. Most of Anna’s friends seem unconcerned, as well, even her boyfriend, who pouts a little because of the aforementioned randiness, but remains otherwise unbothered.
But at least Claudia cares. In her career-launching performance, Monica Vitti plays the film’s protagonist, and if you think this is starting to sound like the setup for a teen sex horror, you’re not entirely wrong. With an iron-willed naivete comparable only to the sublime Jennifer Love Hewitt, Vitti’s Claudia decides she will get to the bottom of Anna’s disappearance.
Eventually. Claudia’s not a professional, after all, and takes plenty of breaks to attend art galleries and enjoy scenic Sicilian train rides. Through the course of the investigation, Claudia falls in love with the missing girl’s boyfriend. This is the second and final plot point.
The lighting is fine and fans of black and white cinematography will be pleased with the two-and-a-half hours of black and white images.
What to make of a film like L’Avventura, booed after its initial screening at Cannes before earning international acclaim. For me, at least, the slow pacing and detached characters tap into an anxiety I felt as a child.
As a kid, I was constantly concerned while watching Hollywood Squares, worried that the set’s scaffolding would collapse, gravely injuring nine of our most recognizable celebrities. This fear made little sense, as I am too young to have watched the game show when it originally aired; I was stressed about reruns. Still, I knew exactly what would happen if such an incident occurred. Nothing! Apologies, maybe. Brief public shock. But from there, the show would move on with new regulars. Rose Marie replaced with Barbara Pepper. Impressionist Rich Little substituted with the dour, insufferable Mike Yarwood. Paul Lynde, for God’s sake, the incomparable Paul Lynde, left to watch from a hospital gurney as his crucial center square is filled with the itinerant ramblings of Don “Gidget” Porter. You can’t put just any idiot in these squares, but that’s exactly what they’d do. Life would move on and we’d all keep laughing even though we’re miserable and actually hate this stupid show.
This is the great fear, nay, the great realization embedded in L’Avventura. That we are all drifting selfishly between moments because it’s the only way we know how to exist. The substance of those moments – the substance of our relationships – is meaningless since we are all without purpose and alone. How can God exist after the violence of the Great Wars, and without a grand cause what good is human consciousness? Do Paul Lynde’s answers even matter when the audience doesn’t care about the questions?
“Sandwiches are wonderful. You don’t need a spoon or a plate,” Paul once joked.
You don’t need a spoon or a plate.
Verdict: circle gets the square