L'Avventura (1960)

In a meditation on all things temporary, Antonioni found the essence of the language of cinema, the way it needed to be spoken and related to. More than just a tale of love and loss, L'Avventura is a study on connection and disconnection, his every frame painting for his audience a new portrait of the fleeting moment. Nothing stands still in this picture, all is moving, swirling like waves crashing against the rocks, like the endless search for something or someone, like the rise and fall of the sun over the water. The amorphous and changing nature of the human mind, subjectivity and lies, even the lies we tell ourselves and want to believe so earnestly that the lie is like a promise to the heart, "I won't tell if you don't". At the center of it all is Monica Vitti, her far away eyes and that hair blowing in the wind, her entire body choreographed with the rhythms set forth by the narrative, skipping through life like all the rest, resisting the senseless highs, only to give in to them, and then never wanting to come back down. Antonioni does not simply show us his characters, he shows us their aura, the way they linger in the psyche even after they've left the frame, we can still see fragments of them reflected in mirrors, staying for just a moment in our eyes and mind. Ana, whose presence haunts the film long after she has vanished from us, is everywhere from the first frame to the last preserved in memory and the minds of Sandro and Claudia. Even Vitti's final statement in her performance, to simply touch her lover's hair, resembles the way that Ana used to touch him. Antonioni hits at something deep here, the way we bleed into one another, the way we become inhabited in some way by those around us. In L'Avventura all is in transient motion, and we can no sooner grasp something than it vanishes forever. Like a sunrise, we'll see many in our lives, yet we'll never see this particular one ever again.  

Here, crafted, is a different kind of love story; a story of the emotion itself and its permanence through life as a feeling. Though this particular love is as the days in our lives; we'll see many, we'll never have this one again.  We're introduced over and over to the lies of human interaction that play more like a solitary game with ourselves as the opponent. How cold we treat what seems permanent, how precious it seems when it vanishes. Claudia and every character onscreen is swept away as the waters on the island, resisting the current until the moment she's pulled in, and just like that the wave breaks and all she wants is to be swept away again. We're left, of course, without any answers to the mysteries. Was Ana swept away? There is a moment in searching when the camera explores a dark space between the rocks, the water crashing in all direction inside, is she down there somewhere? Antonioni's camera seems constantly in motion, even when it stays still, and that's the magic in L'Avventura. The tide moves in and out, in our private worlds we grapple with the questions of why and how it carries us where it does, but the unavoidable fact that we're being moved about by the world around us remains. We're moved by the waves created by others, or perhaps Claudia just is. The strong personality of Ana, the impressionable nature of Claudia, the predator in Sandro. Could it be that in all the time he was being dominated by her that he eyed the delicate figure who orbited on the fringes? Claudia, out the window, as Ana orders him into bed. Water takes the shape of that which contains it and the rocks are hard and immovable. Deep waters hide a mystery, a shark? The rock is safety, solid ground where one can rest. The thing that wears away at the rocks and erodes them over time is the water. It is Antonioni's penchant for playing each of these elements as equals in the scene, leading his audience to consider each in its own characteristic and manner, that holds his cinematic language. Ana, Claudia, Sandro, the rocks, the water, the sunrise, the ever-encroaching modern world that would cut tunnel through rock and sail about the waves on yachts. So intricate a construction is L'Avventura that we barely notice its construct, its seams or its mortar. Much is made of the artist and the wealth class, eating up the terrain, leaving broken hearts and waste in their wake, pouring ink over the artist's sketches. It is simultaneously the talking point of the pseudo-intellectual, the sexual draw for the wealthy female and the envious object of deserved destruction for the wealthy male. Is it the intersection between full, living, breathing humanity and a bored and overfed inhuman class of consumers? Claudia, untainted, walks among them, playing pretend and dancing to pop music, letting the spectacle of modern life and the strong personalities fill her plain existence. She wears a dark wig, like Ana, remarking with pleasure that she looks like someone else. When she dances to that song, she exists in each frame whether she is physically present or not; we see her in reflection, even her shadows seem to cast their alluring spell. Perhaps Sandro remembers a time when he himself was that way, before Ana, and like all parasites, seeks the vibrant life of a new host. 

The adventure here is life itself, and like the best of cinematic poetry, Antonioni makes a grand and sweeping adventure out of the mundane. He also makes little attempt to rein in the sprawling mystery of it all. We follow our instincts, we move impulsively, we look at each other rather than into the mirror, rather than into the mystery, rather than into the abyss, rather than into that swirling darkness in deep waters. For Sandro, by those final moments, Claudia's eyes which once held a new and exciting escape have now become one such mirror. For Claudia, the feeling she resisted for so long cannot dissolve quickly. As she reaches out, Antonioni leaves us with the final image. On the one hand, a brick wall, on the other an endless horizon, and a dormant volcano. Each carefully crafted image of beauty must cut to the next, eventually we must fade to black, L'Avventura's dreamy exploration of transience swells with the music and is extinguished. Our characters continue to grope in the dark, looking for another to hold onto, an answering bell tower across the city. There seem to be mysteries lurking here, mysteries so deep and existential that they dare not speak of them for they fear to even conjure the thought. L'Avventura may, in many ways, be the summation of life as avoidance, indulging ourselves in the warmth of what we do understand when the questions prove too deep. Always looking for what we want to find, ignoring what we do find. Time ticks away, the sun rises, we fall in and out of love, we find out slowly that some answers are not for us to know. Those among us closer to the mysteries can conjure a shark in our imagination and then vanish right before our eyes. What L'Avventura is truly about, we never see on screen, because we've never seen it in life either. It can't be photographed. L'avventura is about the mysteries.