“How long will they last?”: L’Avventura (1960)

dir. Michaelangelo Antioni

“Who needs beautiful things now, Claudia? How long will they last?”

From the waves crashing violently against the rocks of a secluded island to the lavishly decorated halls of an Italian hotel, cinematographer Aldo Scavarda paints a picture of loneliness and ennui that reflects the inner turmoil of L’Avventura’s characters. Antioni has a great way of staging two of his characters in which one of them is far off and another one walks into the shot, creating a sense of depth that somehow makes it seem like these people are being swallowed by their surroundings. They’re visually beautiful and yet they still feel empty.

Entitled L’Avventura or The Adventure, I was fooled into thinking that this would be a Gone Girl-esque thriller in which the characters slowly uncover the truth behind Anna’s disappearance. From the very beginning, she is presented as an enigma. She’s indecisive, brash, and does everything out of whim. We focus on her when in reality, this story is about everyone else.

The adventure here isn’t about finding Anna, it’s about these characters looking for the next new thing that would pique their interest. None of them are fully satisfied. Their lives are empty and meaningless. Anna makes up a story about a shark that worries her companions. For what reason? She shrugs, “Because”. Sandro finds a stranger’s artwork and ruins it with ink. When duly accused of doing it deliberately, he’s nonchalant about it, “Why would I do that?”. In the span of 3 days after Anna’s disappearance, Sandro claims to be in love with her best friend as he slowly loses motivation to find her. Just like an ancient vase, possibly priceless, shattered with no care at all. It’s interesting until it’s gone, and they move on.

Interest is fleeting, just like everything else. All those empty buildings. That cemetery. Nothing is forever and these characters can only hope to find something that would give their lives a semblance of meaning, even just for a moment in time.

“I don’t feel you anymore.”

I really wish that I liked this movie more than I actually did. I love that it’s shot beautifully and I appreciate the story that it’s trying to convey. I think the mood that this movie has captured the feeling of ennui perfectly. However, I felt so detached to the plot and the characters that I had a hard time fully enjoying it as I was watching.

I was also very uncomfortable with the way this film treats its female characters, although that may be the point. They’re strong in their own right but it doesn’t seem to be enough as the men constantly belittle them. Giulia is often ridiculed by her husband which leads her to basking in the attention of a 17-year old boy. Anna’s worries are dismissed by her father and her fiancé, and altogether forgotten. This might just be an assumption but there’s a scene in this movie which I think inspired a scene from another Italian movie: Giuseppe Tornatore’s Malena (2000). Claudia waits for Sandro outside of a shop where he asks for information on Anna and immediately, a great deal of men unabashedly gawk at her, overwhelming her until she runs away. My best guess is that Antioni is trying to show these women as objects of interest as well, something that men get tired of and discard, judging by the scenes of the cheating chemist and his wife. Whatever it is, I feel like I’m missing something which I might get on a rewatch but for now, I don’t fully understand why this is necessary to the movie’s thesis.

This doesn’t mean that I’m giving up on Antioni’s films. Blow-Up (1966), which seems to be one of his most popular, has been in my watchlist for the longest time and I’m excited to see how his style translates to this murder mystery.

The ending is hauntingly beautiful. Sandro weeps on a bench as Claudia looks to the sea. They’re both tired. Gently, she reaches towards him and caresses his hair. As far as they’re concerned, nothing is alright but they seem to have made their peace with it.

“Everything is becoming hideously simple.”

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