Original Italian film poster
|Directed by||Michelangelo Antonioni|
|Produced by||Amato Pennasilico|
|Screenplay by||Michelangelo Antonioni|
|Story by||Michelangelo Antonioni|
|Music by||Giovanni Fusco|
|Edited by||Eraldo Da Roma|
|Distributed by||Cino Del Duca|
L'Avventura (English: "The Adventure") is a 1960 Italian film directed by Michelangelo Antonioni and starring Gabriele Ferzetti, Monica Vitti, and Lea Massari. Developed from a story by Antonioni with co-writers Elio Bartolini and Tonino Guerra, the film is about the disappearance of a young woman (Massari) during a boating trip in the Mediterranean, and the subsequent search for her by her lover (Ferzetti) and her best friend (Vitti).It was filmed on location in Rome, the Aeolian Islands, and Sicily in 1959 under difficult financial and physical conditions. The film is noted for its unusual pacing, which emphasizes visual composition, mood, and character over traditional narrative development.
L'Avventura was nominated for numerous awards and was awarded the Jury Prize at the 1960 Cannes Film Festival. The film made Monica Vitti an international star. According to an Antonioni obituary, the film "systematically subverted the filmic codes, practices and structures in currency at its time." L'Avventura is the first film of a trilogy by Antonioni, followed by La Notte (1961) and L'Eclisse (1962).[N 1] It has appeared on Sight & Sound's list of the critics' top ten greatest films ever made three times in a row: It was voted second in 1962, fifth in 1972 and seventh in 1982. In 2010, it was ranked #40 in Empire magazine's "The 100 Best Films of World Cinema."
Anna (Lea Massari) meets her friend Claudia (Monica Vitti) at her father's villa on the outskirts of Rome before leaving on a yachting cruise on the Mediterranean. They drive into Rome to Isola Tiberina near the Pons Fabricius to meet Anna's boyfriend, Sandro (Gabriele Ferzetti). While Claudia waits downstairs, Anna and Sandro make love in his house. Afterward, Sandro drives the two women to the coast where they join two wealthy couples and set sail south along the coast.
The next morning the yacht reaches the Aeolian Islands north of Sicily. After they pass Basiluzzo, Anna impulsively jumps into the water for a swim, and Sandro jumps in after her. When Anna yells that she's seen a shark, Sandro comes to her side protectively. Later onboard Anna confesses to Claudia that the "whole shark thing was a lie," apparently to get Sandro's attention. After noticing Claudia admiring her blouse, she tells her to put it on, that it looks better on her, and that she should keep it. At one of the smaller islands, Lisca Bianca, the party comes ashore. Anna and Sandro go off alone and talk about their relationship. Anna is unhappy with his long business trips. Sandro dismisses her complaints and takes a nap on the rocks.
Sometime later, Corrado (James Addams) decides to leave the small island, concerned about the weather and rough seas. They hear a boat nearby. Claudia searches for Anna, but she is gone without a trace. Sandro is annoyed, saying this type of behavior is typical. They explore the island and find nothing. Sandro and Corrado decide to continue their search on the island while sending the others off to notify the authorities. Claudia decides to stay as well. Sandro, Corrado, and Claudia continue their search and end up at a shack where they stay the night. As they talk, Sandro takes offense at Claudia's suggestion that Anna's disappearance is somehow due to his neglect.
In the morning, Claudia wakes before the others and watches the sunrise. After finding Anna's blouse in her bag, she meets Sandro out near the cliffs, and they talk about Anna, but Sandro now seems attracted to Claudia. The police arrive and conduct a thorough search, but find nothing. Anna's father, a former diplomat, also arrives in a high-speed hydrofoil. When he sees the books his daughter has been reading—Tender Is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and The Holy Bible—he feels confident that she hasn't committed suicide. The police announce that smugglers were arrested nearby and are being held in Milazzo. Sandro decides to investigate, but before leaving, he finds Claudia alone on the yacht and kisses her. Claudia rushes off, startled by his actions. She decides to search the other islands on her own. They all agree to meet up at Corrado's Villa Montaldo in Palermo.
At the Milazzo police station, Sandro realizes the smugglers know nothing about Anna's disappearance. When he discovers that Claudia has arrived from the islands, he meets her at the train station where their mutual attraction is evident, but Claudia urges him not to complicate matters and begs him to leave. She boards a train to Palermo, and as the train pulls away, Sandro runs after it and jumps aboard. On the train Claudia is annoyed, saying "I don't want you with me." She says it would be easier if they sacrifice now and deny their attraction, but Sandro sees no sense in sacrificing anything. Still focused on her friend's disappearance, Claudia is troubled by the thought that it "takes so little to change." Sandro relents and gets off the train at Castroreale.
At Messina, Sandro tracks down the journalist Zuria, who wrote an article about Anna's disappearance. Their meeting is interrupted by crowds of excited men following a beautiful 19-year-old "writer" and aspiring actress named Gloria Perkins (Dorothy De Poliolo) who is actually an expensive prostitute. Sandro stops to admire her beauty. Zuria says he heard stories that Anna was spotted by a chemist in Troina. After bribing Zuria to run another story on Anna, Sandro heads to Troina. Meanwhile, Claudia meets her boating companions at Corrado's Villa Montaldo in Palermo. No one seems to take Anna's disappearance seriously except Claudia. Even Corrado's young wife Giulia openly flirts with the young prince in front of her husband. After reading Zuria's follow-up story, Claudia leaves the villa for Troina to continue her search.
In Troina, Sandro questions the chemist who claimed to have sold tranquilizers to Anna. Claudia arrives, and they learn that the woman identified by the chemist left on a bus to Noto in southern Sicily. Sandro and Claudia resume their search together and drive south. Outside Noto, they stop at a deserted village, and then find a hill overlooking the town where they make love while a train goes by. Later in town, they go to the Trinacria Hotel where they believe Anna is staying. Claudia asks Sandro to go in alone. While Claudia waits outside, a crowd of men gather around her. When she thinks she sees Sandro and Anna coming down the stairs she runs into a paint store, but Sandro follows and confirms that Anna is not there. Claudia remains torn between her feelings for Sandro and her friendship with Anna.
At the Chiesa del Collegio, a nun shows them the view from the roof. Sandro talks about his disappointments with his work, far removed from his youthful ambitions as an architect. Suddenly he asks Claudia to marry him, but she says no—things are too complicated. She accidentally tugs on a rope that rings the church bells, which are answered by connected church bells at another church. Claudia is delighted by the sounds. The next morning, she wakes in a joyful mood, dancing and singing in the room while Sandro looks on amused. They both seem passionately in love. Sandro goes for a walk to the Piazza Municipio, where he notices an ink sketch left by one of the students. With his keychain he "accidentally" knocks over the ink onto the sketch. The student notices and confronts Sandro, who denies he did it on purpose. Sandro returns to the hotel and tries to make love to Claudia, but she resists, telling him they should leave.
At Taormina, they check into the San Domenico Palace Hotel where Sandro's employer Ettore and his wife Patrizia are preparing for a party. Claudia decides not to attend because she's tired. At the party, Sandro checks out the women—recognizing Gloria Perkins. Back in the room, Claudia is unable to sleep. Noticing that Sandro has not yet returned, she goes downstairs to Patrizia's room to inquire about Sandro. Claudia confesses that she's afraid Anna has returned and that Sandro will return to her. After searching the hotel, Claudia finally discovers Sandro having sex with Gloria on a couch. Claudia runs off, and Sandro follows her onto the hotel terrace where he finds her quietly weeping. Sandro sits on a bench and says nothing; he too begins to cry. Claudia approaches him, and after hesitating, she places her hand on his head in a gesture of compassion and comfort while looking out at the snow-covered image of Mount Etna on the horizon.
Shooting began in August 1959 and lasted until January 15, 1960. Antonioni began filming the island sequence with the scenes immediately after Anna disappears. The majority of shooting on the island was filmed on the island Lisca Bianca (white fish bone) with a cast and crew of 50 people. Other locations for the island sequence included Panarea (which was the production's headquarters), Mondello and Palermo. Filming the island sequence was intended to take three weeks, but ended up lasting for four months. Difficulties included the islands being infested with rats, mosquitoes and reptiles; also, the weather was unexpectedly cold, and the navy ship hired to transport the cast and crew to the island every day never appeared. In order to carry personal items and equipment to the island, the crew had to build small rafts out of empty gas canisters and wooden planks; these were towed by a launching tug every morning.
One week after shooting began, the film's production company went bankrupt, leaving the production in short supplies of food and water. Antonioni still had a large supply of film stock and managed to get the cast and crew to work for free until funding for the film was found. At one point, ships stopped making trips to Lisca Bianca, and the cast and crew were stranded for three days without food or blankets. Eventually, the crew went on strike and Antonioni and his assistant director shot the film themselves. Due to the rough condition of the sea and the difficulty in landing a ship on the rough rocks of Lisca Bianca, the cast and crew were forced to sleep on the island. Antonioni has stated that he "woke up every morning at 3 o'clock in order to be alone and reflect on what I was doing in order to re-load myself against fatigue and a strange form of apathy or absence of will, which often took hold of us all." After several weeks of Antonioni and the crew working without a budget, the production company Cino del Duca agreed to finance the film and sent money to him.
Whilst shooting on the 40-foot yacht for scenes early in the film, the cast and crew totaled 23 people. Antonioni had wanted to shoot the film chronologically, but the yacht was not available until November. Owing to the cold weather, actress Lea Massari developed a cardiac condition after spending several days swimming in the Mediterranean Sea during filming, and spent several days in a coma after being rushed to Rome for medical treatment.
After completing the island sequence, filming continued throughout Sicily and Italy. The sequence on the train from Castroreale to Cefalù took two days to shoot instead of the intended three hours. The scene in Messina where Sandro encounters Gloria Perkins took two days to shoot; Antononi initially wanted 400 extras for it. Only 100 turned up, so crew members recruited passers-by on the street to appear in the scene. The sequence where Sandro and Claudia visit a deserted town was shot in Santa Panagia, near Catania in Sicily; buildings there were commissioned by Benito Mussolini, and were examples of fascist architecture of the Mezzogiorno. The scene where Sandro and Claudia first have sex took 10 days to shoot, owing to the crew having to wait for a train to pass by every morning.
Antonioni wrote that the film was "expressed through images in which I hope to show not the birth of an erroneous sentiment, but rather the way in which we go astray in our sentiments. Because as I have said, our moral values are old. Our myths and conventions are old. And everyone knows that they are indeed old and outmoded. Yet we respect them."
The film's musical score was composed by Giovanni Fusco, who had scored all of Antonioni's films up to that time. Antonioni usually only used diegetic music in his films and this was one of the latter times that he (briefly) included a musical score for scenes other than during the credits. For L'avventura, Antonioni asked Fusco to compose "jazz as though it had been written in the Hellenic era."
Despite the film's eventual lionization by film scholars, the film received a harsh reception at its opening in May at the 1960 Cannes Film Festival. It is one of the festival's more notorious reactions. According to Vitti, "the screening of Cannes was a real-life drama." From the opening titles, despite the film's serious tone, laughs erupted in a dark theater packed with critics and photographers. Laughs continued through the runtime, joined by boos. Gene Youngblood stated that audience members usually booed during long sequences where nothing happened to further the film's plot, but has asserted that "quite a lot is happening in these scenes." Antonioni and Vitti, who claimed she was sobbing, fled the theater.
The next day, however, the filmmakers were sent a list of signatures from established filmmakers and writers who declared that L'Avventura was the best movie screened at Cannes. After a second screening, the film went on to win the Jury Prize at the same festival, and went on to international box office success and what has been described as "hysteria." Youngblood described the trilogy of which L'Avventura is the first component as a "unified statement about the malady of the emotional life in contemporary times."
Bosley Crowther of The New York Times called the film a "weird adventure" and praised its cinematography and performances. Andrew Sarris of The Village Voice called it the movie-going phenomenon of 1961, and praised Antonioni's depiction of characters that cannot communicate with each other. Stanley Kauffmann of The New Republic wrote that "Antonioni is trying to exploit the unique powers of the film as distinct from the theater...He attempts to get from film the same utility of the medium itself as a novelist whose point is not story but mood and character and for whom the texture of the prose works as much as what he says in the prose."
L'Avventura influenced the visual language of cinema, changing how subsequent films looked, and has been named by some critics as one of the best made. However, it has been criticized by others for its seemingly uneventful plot and slow pacing, along with the existentialist themes. Youngblood has stated that "very few films in the history of cinema have broken the standard rules of cinematic grammar so elegantly, so subtly, as this film." Jonathan Rosenbaum has called it a masterpiece. Roger Ebert wrote that he came to like the film later in life when he began to admire the "clarity and passion Antonioni brought to the film's silent cry of despair." Geoff Andrew of Time Out criticized the film, writing that "If it once seemed the ultimate in arty, intellectually chic movie-making, the film now looks all too studied and remote a portrait of emotional sterility." Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune defended the film against Andrew's criticism, writing that "It's easy to bash Antonioni as passe. It's harder, I think, to explain the cinematic power of the way his camera watches, and waits, while the people on screen stave off a dreadful loneliness."
It has appeared on Sight & Sound's prestigious list of the critics' top 10 greatest films ever made three times in a row: It was voted second in 1962, fifth in 1972 and seventh in 1982. It currently ranks #21 (43 critics having voted for it) in the critics' poll and #30 (14 directors' votes) in the directors' poll. In 2010, it was ranked #40 in Empire magazine's "The 100 Best Films of World Cinema."
Much has been made of Anna's unsolved disappearance, which Roger Ebert has described as being linked to the film's mostly wealthy, bored, and spoiled characters, none of whom have fulfilling relationships. They are all, wrote Ebert, "on the brink of disappearance."
According to Alain Robbe-Grillet, many shots in the "continental" part of the film are taken from the point of view of an unseen character, as if Anna was following Sandro and Claudia to see what they would do. When asked, Antonioni told Robbe-Grillet that the "missing" scene (showing Anna's body recovered from the sea) was scripted and actually filmed but did not make it into the final cut, apparently for timing reasons.
A digitally restored version of the film (optimal image quality: RSDL dual-layer edition) was released on DVD by The Criterion Collection in June 2001. The release includes audio commentary by film historian Gene Youngblood, an English subtitle translation, a 58-minute documentary by Gianfranco Mingozzi titled Antonioni: Documents and Testimonials (1966), and writings by Antonioni read by Jack Nicholson with Nicholson's personal recollections of the director.