The Timelessness of Distance and Alienation in L'Avventura
"It's hard, keeping a relationship going when one's here and the other's there—but it's easy, too," one of the characters in L'Avventura quips. This prescient observation—that distance and alienation engender social relations as much as they encumber them—still rings true 53 years after the film's release, at a cultural moment when technology simultaneously unites and distances us. One of the defining works of modernist cinema, Michelangelo Antonioni's enduring masterpiece—now in its first new 35mm print in over a decade—only grows more poignant with time, as its social critique is revealed to be timeless. The bourgeois, vapid lives of Anna (Lea Massari) and Claudia (Monica Vitti) are filled with yachts, lovers, and anomie; yet it's nevertheless shocking that when Anna goes missing during a boating trip, Claudia and Anna's fiancé, Sandro (Gabriele Ferzetti), become more interested in each another than finding Anna. Against the portrait of a romance that is disturbing in its bizarre plausibility, Antonioni depicts a thoroughly morally bankrupt Italy, where men leer at women unashamedly, husbands and wives hate one another, and, of course, missing best friends are meaningless. Through his then-groundbreaking usage of negative space and his compositional de-emphasizing of the individual in favor of indifferent landscapes (a tactic recalling Giorgio de Chirico), Antonioni created, as the Cannes jury put it in 1960, a new language of cinema, one that perfectly expressed a modern alienation that's as enduring as the film.
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