Saw a 35mm screening of "L'avventura" last night at Anthology Film Archives, part of Jonas Mekas' 'Boring Masterpieces' series
. Between the dogs barking/NYC firetrucks/ambulance sirens outside, the douchebag in the back of the theater making an orchestra out of his many plastic bags and the other douchebag sitting right next to me that kept fidgeting his jacket/snoring loudly every five minutes or so for the last 45 minutes I could have been excused for not enjoying myself. Not so, Kevin Costner's ability to shut off distractions in "For Love of the Game" has nothing on the way I ignored these distractions and kept my focus squarely on the screen. Beats seeing it for the first time on decade-old Criterion DVD (patron-supplied foley notwithstanding). I thought I was ready to handle whatever "L'avventura" threw at me because I'd already seen Antonioni's "The Passenger," "Blow-Up" and "Red Desert" on DVD/Blu-ray. But I was thrown a curveball because, despite featuring a healthy dose of Antonioni's mise-en-scène, this wasn't at all what I expected.
Like "Psycho" we're given someone who appears to be the lead in Anna (Lea Massari sure looks the part of a leading lady) and, when she literally vanishes, Claudia and Sandro become the movie's unlikely co-leads. To see how gradually Antonioni transforms the search for Anna into the effect that Anna's absence has unleashed on her friend & boyfriend (repressed lust that would have likely emerged through an affair between Claudia and Sandro had Anna married Sandro... which may be the reason Anna was refusing Sandro's marriage proposals), and how little in the end Anna meant to them (Monica Vitti's reaction of self-aware horror at her realization of her own vapid set of values is pretty powerful, even if soon after she's rolling in bed with Gabriele Ferzetti) is to watch a master director in complete control of his actors. By the time a potential lead into Anna's whereabouts comes up (the house where foreign girls are sent) we're not surprised when this potential clue to the mystery is not only not followed by Claudia and Sandro but completely ignored. "L'avventura" never seemed as slow or boring to me as I expected. From the yacht pleasentries (which were funny, something I'm not used to from Antonioni) to the island desolation (rock exteriors as well as the emotional states of those climbing over them), from the search for Anna to the train trist between Sandro and Claudia, from the romance at the hotel to that memorable final shot (more below), there's seldom a moment when something/someone isn't being the center of attention. Like Whit Stillman with his smart-ass NYC socialte elite characters Antonioni cares about these well-off characters' meaningless trists because he knows (a) their lifestyles/playgrounds make for great cinematic eye-candy and (b) that's the way they were raised so they're not bad, just blind to the normal emotions most normal folks would feel when their best friend/girlfriend disappears. And for Antonioni those character flaws are the perfect human metaphors that he needs to make the framing of his antiques, rocks, old churches and statues (a lot of human art in the background where these characters walk about, something that both humanizes but also diminishes the humanity of those that stand in front of these works of art) the visual representations of what his characters can't say or communicate like most normal folks would.
Compared with David Locke wondering around Barcelona in "The Passenger," the lengthy green grass shots in "Blow-Up" or the technology-ravaged wasteland of "Red Desert" I never felt "L'avventura" lacked in places to go, people doing things (children in church, fishermen, the Italian navy, etc.) or things that Claudia needed to say to Sandro, and/or viceversa. At first I thought, since this was the start of Antonioni's great international acclaim period, that his 'style' (as seen in the above-listed movies of his I've seen) wasn't perfected yet. But now I realize this is a completely different kind of movie. It's got the human isolation and eye for composition he's known for (I've never seen rocks, abandoned islands, churches and human beings so gorgeously photographed since I last saw my "Last Year at Marienbad" Blu-ray) but Antonioni never loses sight of the cracks between what his characters are supposed to be feeling (which we as a viewing audience have been conditioned/trained to expect for them to behave a certain way) and what we're shown them saying/doing. The movie's final shot is a freaking masterstroke because (IMO) it represents that Monica has achieved the freedom to pursue love, with Sandro or someone else, because she's been hurt by Sandro's betrayal with the Anna-lookalike (visually her half of the screen is an open view to the sky, the world and its infinite potential there for her to take) while Sandro is forever condemned to seek and do the same mistakes he's done over and over again (his half of the screen is a wall, a self-made cage of guilt for what he last said/did to Anna). Still trying to sort if the 'wall' around Sandro is true affection for Anna, which make him pursue (a) Anna's best friend (for whom Anna was very fond of, as seen while the women were changing clothes in the boat) and (b) an attractive brunette that sort-of looked like Anna. It's an ending open for interpretation and that's mine, but it probably will change when I see "L'avventura" a few more times as soon as it's released on Blu-ray. I'm a patient man, I'll wait.
The moment I saw that final shot of "L'avventura" it hit me that it was 'borrowed' by writer/director Kenneth Johnson for a scene in "The Incredible Hulk" TV pilot from 1977
(4:00 min. into the clip) that struck me as being a perfect visual metaphor for Banner's troubled personal life that led him to experiment with Gamma radiation. If Kenneth was going to steal a shot for his American network TV comic book TV adaptation (one of my five favorite TV shows of all time) at least Johnson stole from the best. :) And I don't know if it was the experience of seeing it in a decently-attended theatrical screening but this was the most funny (laughing with the movie, not at it) Antonioni movie experience I've had, especially the first part before Anna disappears (every other close-up of James Addams' Corrado or whenever Lelio Luttazzi's Raimondo is henpecked by his wife had the theater laughing). I'm not sure the same scenes would have made me laugh had I watched them alone at home in front of my 47" flat screen.