Michelangelo Antonioni invented a new film grammar with this masterwork. An iconic piece of challenging 1960s cinema and a gripping narrative on its own terms, L’avventura concerns the enigmatic disappearance of a young woman during a yachting trip off the coast of Sicily, and the search taken up by her disaffected lover (Gabriele Ferzetti) and best friend (Monica Vitti, in her breakout role). Antonioni’s controversial international sensation is a gorgeously shot tale of modern ennui and spiritual isolation.
Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’avventura gets a wonderful high-definition make-over in Criterion’s Blu-ray edition, presented in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on a dual-layer disc. Initially done in 4K and taken from both the original 35mm camera negative and a 35mm fine-grain, the new transfer is presented in 1080p/24hz.
In comparison to Criterion’s problematic DVD this new presentation is a revelation. The old DVD has an odd problem where half of the film was delivered as a progressive transfer and then the last half, after the layer-change, presented an interlaced transfer. Not only is that issue remedied but the transfer also offers better contrast, the image no longer coming off as harsh in its presentations of blacks and whites, and the image is also significantly sharper. Fine object detail pops and textures are nicely delivered. Film grain is fine but rendered naturally.
The print is also in better shape. There can be some slight pulsating and a few marks, but a lot of these problems have also been alleviated in comparison to the old DVD and the image is the cleanest I have ever seen it. Certainly worth the upgrade just for the new presentation.
The lossless linear PCM mono track sounds a little better than the original Dolby Digital track found on the earlier DVD, but it still shows its age. Though cleaner with no noteworthy levels of distortion it still comes off a bit flat, without much fidelity. But I’m certain this is related to the age of the materials and not something related to the transfer. Otherwise it’s fine and serves the film well enough.
Most of the material from the original DVD gets ported over from the Criterion DVD, starting with an audio commentary by Gene Youngblood, recorded for the original Criterion laserdisc in 1989. Though certainly an older track I still find it a great primer in trying to understand Antonioni’s visual language. Youngblood really tries to explain how the director tells his stories more through the image rather than general narrative, and he explains how compositions, certain edits, movements and actions of characters, and so forth do this. He stresses that certain items, like the buildings that appear or archways that characters pass through aren’t symbols but actual representations or markings of transitions. Youngblood also offers plenty of backstory to the rather troubled production, including the difficulties in filming on the islands in the first half of the film. It’s a strong track, and a fantastic primer for those new to Antonioni, or simply perplexed by the film.
Also carried over is the excellent 58-minute documentary on the director, Antonioni: Documents and Testimonials, made in 1966. Featuring a number of interviews with those that knew him, including but not limited to Federico Fellini and Monica Vitti, as well as footage of the filmmaker at work, it’s a nice overview of his work, up to Red Desert at least, with some good stories (particularly one from Vitti about L’avventura’s notorious premiere).
Also carried over is the great addition of Jack Nicholson reading a couple of Antonioni’s essays. Running 21-minutes in total, the audio-only feature has Nicholson reading Antonioni’s essay “L’avventura: A Moral Adventure” where the filmmaker discusses why he makes movies, how he sees film, and recalls some of the more difficult aspects of the shoot. He also reads “Reflections on the Film Actor”, where Antonioni bluntly states how he sees the actor and how a director should work with an actor, with the more important rule being to never let the actor know what the director is intending. Nicholson then talks a bit about his experience with the director, which he recalls being very pleasant, and shares a couple of humourous anecdotes.
Technically “new” to this edition (though it appears to be from another DVD release in another region) is a 2004 discussion with director Olivier Assayas talking about Antonioni’s style of film language in three different parts, explaining and pointing out how his visuals move the story along and tell you what you need to know. For those not wanting to do the commentary I think it’s a decent introduction for those new to Antonioni, but I think Youngblood’s pointers in the commentary are stronger. This feature runs about 26-minutes.
The supplements then close with the film’s theatrical trailer.
Criterion then includes an insert featuring the same material found on the DVD’s insert: an excellent essay on the film and Antonioni by Geoffrey Nowell-Smith, along with Antonioni’s statement about the film made at its Cannes showing, as well as an open letter written and signed by members of the Cannes jury praising L’avventura despite its poor reception at the festival.
The release is missing the restoration demonstration found on the old DVD edition, but since this is a whole new presentation that’s not too much of a surprise.
Not a huge upgrade over the previous DVD, only the Assayas interview is new, but they’re still a solid set of supplements that aid in understanding and appreciating the film.
A solid upgrade over the previous DVD edition, with some of the same supplements and one new one, this release comes with a very high recommendation.