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March 23, 1961, Vol. VI, No. 22
By Andrew Sarris
As long as the great foreign films continue to trickle into New York at the present snail’s pace, the enthusiasm of discerning movie-goers will have to be concentrated on one phenomenon at time; 1959 was the year of “Wild Strawberries” and “The Four Hundred Blows”; 1960 belonged to “Hiroshima, Mon Amour” and “Picnic on the Grass.” So far this year it has been all “Breathless,” but now it is time for another blast of trumpets. Beginning April 4 at the Beekman Theater, “L’AVVENTURA” will become the one first-run film to see in New York. The sixth feature film of Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni, “L’AVVENTURA” will probably be even more controversial than its French and Swedish predecessors which have been conveniently misunderstood as problem tracts of old age, childhood, juvenile delinquency, miscegenation, nuclear warfare, or what have you.
With “L’Avventura,” the issue cannot be muddled. Antonioni’s film is an intellectual adventure or it is nothing. The plot, such as it is, will infuriate audiences who still demand plotted cinema and potted climaxes. A group of bored Italian socialites disembark from their yacht on a deserted island. After wandering about a while, they discover that one of their number, a perverse girl named Anna, is missing. Up to that time, Anna (Lea Massari) had been the protagonist. Not only does she never reappear; the mystery of her disappearance is never solved. Anna’s fiancee (Gabriela Ferzetti) and her best friend (Monica Vitti) continue the search from one town to another, ultimately betraying the object of their search by becoming lovers. The film ends on a note of further betrayal and weary acceptance with the two lovers facing a blank wall and a distant island, both literally and symbolically.
The film is almost over before we learn that the hero is an architect who has sacrificed his ambitions for the lucrative position of a middleman in the building industry. The other characterizations are sketched in much the same apparently incidental manner. A graduate of Screenwriting 1-2 might dismiss this method as casualness or even carelessness, but every shot and bit of business in “L’Avventura” represents calculation of the highest order. The characteristic Antonioni image consists of two or more characters within the same frame not looking at each other. They may be separated by space, mood, interest, but the point comes across, and the imposing cinematic theme of communication is brilliantly demonstrated.
If Antonioni’s characters are unable to communicate with those who should be closest to them they are also unable to avoid the intrusion of strangers. When Monica Vitti is contemplating suicide, a passerby looks up at her and jars her sense of solitude without relieving her loneliness. Is this not typical of modern society where crowds supersede communities?
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