The Greatest films of all time: 56. L’Avventura (1960)(Italy)



While in the same year of 1960, Jean Luc Godard in France with his “Breathless” and Federico Fellini in Italy with his “La Dolce Vita” were experimenting a new wave cinema, Michelangelo Antonioni from Italy as well with his “L’Avventura” became the leader of such new cinema. Godard’s Breathless was innovative and reactionary but was an empty experience, Fellini’s La Dolce Vita was a free floating wild exploration into the petti-bourgeoisies extravagant lives with not much message and interpretation, both not leaving an impression on the mind at the time of viewing and later. Antonioni starting cinema with the master of neo-realism, Roberto Rossellini in 1942, started his innovation in 1955 with “Le Amiche” (The Girlfriends) using long shots and still frames camerawork and cinematography, opposite to the jump cuts of Godard, adding another neo-realism to the cinema. This new neo-realism looked farther deep into the inner world of humans condition, completed the outer façade of the first neo-realism movement of Rossellini and De Sica. 

Antonioni with his “L’Avventura” reached the ultimate in his new style and delved into the void, emptiness and alienation of humans, specially the middle class and rich. This is clearly shown from the opening scene in Anna (Lea Massari) who looks totally lost and alienated not just from his diplomatic father (Renzo Ricci), but from his fiancé Sandro (Gabriele Ferzetti), and even her girlfriend Claudia (Monica Vitti) to whom she seems to be the closest, and also to the rest of friends and crews of the yacht. She feels and is lonely and nothing makes her happy even her impulsive sexual act with her fiancé while Claudia waiting for them downstairs, so all departing for a Mediterranean cruise . She seems to be lost even to herself and obviously not understood by others, even Claudia and more so Sandro who is pushing her to get married, while she wants to be left alone, despite not desiring to lose him. Right after the rejection of her request by Sandro, she physically disappears and all the rest in fright looking for her on a small desolated rocky island where the group have just docked.

This void, emptiness inside and alienation from others are seen in other passengers as well such as Corrado (James Addams) and Giulia (Dominique Blanchar) in an opposite manner, that the man is ignorant of the woman, the only one who observes and feels her surrounding. The inner feelings of human is shown by Antonioni not through dialogue that often the film does not have much, but with its long shots and still frames cinematography that may look like a silent film. This style of filming annoyed Orson Welles who disliked Antonioni’s long shots by exclaiming “I don’t like to dwell on things. It’s one of the reasons I’m so bored with Antonioni – the belief that, because a shot is good, it’s going to get better if you keep looking at it. He gives you a full shot of somebody walking down a road. And you think, ‘Well, he’s not going to carry that woman all the way up that road.’ But he does. And then she leaves and you go on looking at the road after she’s gone.”

In fact Antonioni with his new cinematic technique, partly borrowed from his neo-realistic teachers but applied it at his own purpose, keeps the audience like the shot frame to freeze and delve deep into the scene and reflect. The dialogues in this film and his other works are cleverly written by him in collaboration with others, for brief hinting to the inner feelings and facades. If Antonioni used short and usual shots and applied dialogue to express and criticize the inner void and feeling of loss of the middle class like in “L’Avventura” as Woody Allen does, then he has imposed his own view and ideology onto the viewer’s minds. But he with his cinematographic novelty, long and slow shots leave the individual to reach his or her own understanding and interpretation.   

What Godard could not achieve well in “Breathless” with his free floating scenes and jump shots, Antonioni mastered with shooting an ordinary day event in the lives of some rich people. The title of the film that means “The Adventure” could easily convey that being about a yacht cruise adventure of a group of rich people with partying, drinking, music, dancing and sexual acts. But the eight passengers of the yacht, three couples, a captain and a bachelor look like ghosts, disconnected and lost even in the purpose of their daily excursion, perhaps like their other daily life events. Their behaviours seem to be impulsive and spontaneous and even for annoyance of each other, like Anna while swimming with three others fabricating with scream having seen a shark in the water, frightens everyone.

Cinematic Image at the service of Inner Psyche:

It has been said a lot about Antonioni and even he has expressed his own philosophy of film, being reactionary to the humans archetypal moralism, aiming for new modern perspectives on life. But his film such as “L’Avventura” is not just about or against moralistic values or judgment, or against scientific achievements in modern era that he has lectured about in an essay, but exploration of humans’ inner psyche. In this journey and by the application of the power of imagery in cinema, he shows the void, emptiness, nothingness, boredom and feeling of uselessness, lack of purpose, and being lost in the middle and rich class. This middle class at the Cannes Film Festival in 1960 perhaps disliking to see their mirror images on the screen at the time of premier showing of the film, received it harshly with laughs and boos from the early scenes. Perhaps this disgraceful reception of the audience caused the jury and the other filmmakers and critics present at the festival to publish a statement, declaring the film the best ever seen at the Festival and one of the greatest films of all time. 

From his training in the Italian neo-realism and a philosophical tendency towards existentialism and socialism, Antonioni examines the petti-bourgeoisies under his microscope. His ideology and attitude in this regard also originates in his parents’ roots in the working class who only with hard work climbed up in the social ladder to the middle class. Since his childhood, Antonioni had always been attracted by the poor: “The poor still existed at that time, you recognized them by their clothes. But even in the way they wore their clothes, there was a fantasy, a frankness that made me prefer them to boys of bourgeois families. I always had sympathy for young women of working-class families, even later when I attended university: they were more authentic and spontaneous”. 

In fact Antonioni turned the neo-realism in cinema inside-out and made his own new cinematic wave of inner neo-realism. The Italian neo-realism of Rossellini and De Sica portrayed the reality of the lives of the poor and ordinary people, specially after the second world war, with their characters’ honesty, genuineness, spontaneity and purposefulness in life. But opposite to all the above qualities of the poor and ordinary working people, there was the petti-bourgeoisies’ convenience of life materially, but void and emptiness psychologically. This could be achieved only by a strong dislike of all these rich nothingness with a great vision of seeing such that Antonioni applied with the power of cinematic imagery, his long shots and still frames to convey his messages.

While encouraging the spontaneity of his actors and not following any rigid script, he focused on the inner beings of the characters and used the scenery and the environment at that service. He used the small barren and rocky island of Lipari, one of the small former volcanic Aeolian islands off the coast of Sicily as the stopover of the yacht crew in “L’Avventura” to correspond with the inner emptiness and alienation of the characters. The disappearance of Anna off the island or her physical loss, hits her boyfriend and her close female friend, Claudia hard with devastation, who until then had not understood her inner feeling of loss. This inner loss is later on shown in Sandro who does not know what he is looking for in life or making him content, when hitting on Claudia while still searching for Anna.   

Later on after persistence of Sandro for her affection and filling his inner emptiness, Claudia gets lost in his web of nothingness and lack of purpose. After leaving the island with no sight of Anna and back in town, they drive aimlessly around and reach an abandoned town, “Noto” that Claudia asks “Why this place is so empty. Wonder why they built it at all?” Then Sandro responds “I don’t know”, looking down the hill says “There’s another one down there”, but Claudia exclaims “That’s not a town. That’s  a cemetery”. 

Sandro who is asking Claudia to marry her, only a few days after the disappearance of his fiancé Anna, soon after a few hours of staying in a hotel together, he gets bored leaving her in the hotel for a wonder walk in town. In the evening Claudia who’s bored as well refuses to go with him to the hotel lobby party, and wanting to rest. He is pacing around in the lobby aimlessly, passing looks with other bachelor ladies, and finally goes with one. Claudia not able to sleep, gets up, walks around the room until early morning, and by the early hours of the morning when Sandro not comng back in the room, worrying he has been lost, running and looking around the hotel, until finding him on a corner in the arms of a woman lying down on a sofa. Surprised and sad, she runs out of the hotel onto the street.

In the final scene, finding her in tears on a terrace, he walks by her who is looking into the far, sits on a bench in remorse. Now both in tears, Claudia approaches him from behind, feeling the sorrow, the void of his psyche and perhaps hers, caressing his hair and the film ends, hopefully with a connection between the two lost souls. This reciprocal pity or balance between two lost beings ends the film with no added interpretation, leaving the audience to make their own.  


In closing remarks “L’Avventura” one more time will be redefined based on the following criteria:   

  1. Originality:“L’Avventura”  is original in its experimentation of a new wave in cinema, or a new neo-realism for exploration of the inner psyche of the petti-bourgeoisies that Antonioni criticizes it as void, lost and aimless. The director’s use of long shots and still frames, reminiscent of some older silent films, brings more depth to the cinematic armamentarium.  

2. Technicality:The technicality of “L’Avventura” is in its long shots, still frames and the spontaneity of the acting that are inventions of Antonioi. The use of allegory of the surrounding to correspond with the inner void and feelings of lost such as the barren rocky island and the empty town of “Noto” is another unique and novel technicality of the film.   

3. Impact Factor:The influence of “L’Avventura”has been the most on other filmmakers who some liked and adapted Antonioni’s style and some disliked, that in either way is a testimony to the impact of the film and the director’s style on others. 

4.Survival:“L’Avventura” has received and survived well specially in the same petti-bourgeoisies intellectual circle that soon was on almost every list of the greatest films of all time and often on the top ten. The film still to this day is lesson and guide to unconventional filmmaking and departure from the rigid and written rules despite the trend of time.


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