Considering I spent much of my late teens and early 20s watching a lot of classic Italian cinema, I’ve known of L’Avventura (and its director Michelangelo Antonioni) for a while. But for whatever reason, I never felt compelled to seek it out, or for that matter any of Antonioni’s films that aren’t named Blow-Up. Perhaps this is because all I really knew about L’Avventura was that it’s about a girl that goes missing but is never found, that it’s kinda slow and unsatisfying, and that it was booed when it premiered at Cannes in 1960.
And on some level, after sitting through the entire film, that still kind of feels like all I know about this bracingly enigmatic film. L’Avventura begins simply enough, with a group of young and beautiful Italians setting out on a seaward holiday in the Mediterranean. One of the young women on this trip is Anna (Lea Massari), who seems to show a fairly fatalistic perspective on life, before going missing without a trace.
The two travelers that are most affected by this disappearance are Anna’s lover, Sandro (Gabrielle Ferzeti), who’s about as much of a 60s Italian hunk stereotype as you’d expect a guy named Sandro to be. While Claudia (Monica Vitti in her breakout role), who is close friends with Anna, is similarly quite distressed by Anna’s disappearance. The two of them then spend the rest of the film wandering nearby towns looking for Anna, though they never come across any pertinent clues as to where Anna has disappeared to, as it becomes pretty apparent that the film isn’t really interested in discovering Anna’s whereabouts.
Which then begs the question, if L’Avventura isn’t about solving the mystery at the heart of its plot, then what is it about? Well, much of it deals with Sandro and Claudia starting to fall for each other, which may come from some sort of shared guilt, or may just come from the fact that they’re both very attractive and can’t help but fall for each other. It’s hard to say, since the film’s coolly detached nature makes it hard to figure out where anyone is coming from or where they’re heading.Which I think makes L’Avventura a film that you could interpret in a lot of different ways, but I had one main takeaway from it. And that’s that people are too wrapped up in their own bullshit to really care about any great injustices or tragedies going on in the world. Like yeah, we all know there are people out there doing bad things to less fortunate people. But do we do anything about it? Sure, we go as far as caring (or saying we care).
But a lot of the time, we’re like Sandro and Claudia. Getting caught up in some pointless romance, or hanging out with so-called artist-types that seem interesting (but aren’t), or going to parties in which no one seems to be having fun. None of which seems particularly pressing when compared to a loved one going missing. But the fact of the matter is, we keep on living our lives no matter what tragedies befall us, even if we might have the power to rectify them.
So yeah, L’Avventura is one of those films that I could’ve imagined having a long conversation about in film school. Yet at the same time, I’m not sure it’s a film I could’ve imagined any instructor assigning a bunch of college age students to sit through. Because yes, this movie is a bit of a slog, since it really isn’t about the conflict it initially poses. And thus feels intentionally directionless, as its characters become similarly directionless when they start to realize that finding their missing person just isn’t in the cards. Which all makes this a very hard film for me to unabashedly recommend, though I can guarantee it’s an adventure unlike any other.