by Allan Fish
(Italy 1960 145m) DVD1/2
Poor things abandoned by the sea
p Amato Pennasilico d Michelangelo Antonioni w Michelangelo Antonioni, Elio Bartolini, Tonino Guerra story Michelangelo Antonioni ph Aldo Scavarda ed Eraldo da Roma m Giovanni Fusco art Piero Poletto
Monica Vitti (Claudia), Gabriele Ferzetti (Sandro), Léa Massari (Anna), Dominique Blanchar (Giulia), James Addams (Corrado), Renzo Ricci, Esmerelda Ruspoli, Lello Luttazzi, Dorothy de Poliolo, Giovanni Petrucci,
It is thus that a group of islands are described by one of the rich party who go there on an excursion. These are no ordinary islands; silent, mysterious, desolate, volcanic, forbidding, marking time like the Old Man of Hoy. On their ragged rocks men have walked for millennia. Ruins are said to exist thereon. Ancient vases are found and casually destroyed. For this party of rich care not what they do or what gets damaged. They have too much money to care and emotions can go hang themselves.
The film begins rather slowly, dreamily one might say. A young woman, Anna, advises her father that she is off on a jaunt for a few days with friends. She goes to meet her lover and, one assumes, they make love. They are soon seen on the boat to the island and there one begins to see into these characters. Anna is vain, capricious, impulsive, spoilt and, like many such rich people, frightfully bored of her friends, her lover and her life in general. She jumps overboard for something to do, causing the whole party to stop the boat, then pretends a shark is in the waters just for a joke and to call attention to herself (though we have actually seen that there is a shark around). By this point, one is becoming as bored with her as she is with everything. Then, just as one begins to fear the worst, she’s gone; disappeared without trace. At first the party search casually, believing it to be only a matter of time before she’s discovered. After all, how many places can a girl hide on such a rock? Eventually they realise the seriousness and alert the authorities. Divers and helicopters are brought in without success. Her friend stays behind to look for her until all the islands are fully combed, but to no avail. She’s gone and, like the best mysteries, they never find her.
Anna disappears after just twenty minutes or so but her spirit haunts the movie long after, in much the same way as the coincidentally similar Psycho is haunted by Janet Leigh, though here we don’t know the outcome before the search begins. Has she ended it all, finally bored not only of her life but her own boredom? Has one of the party killed her for an unexplained reason? Was there a significance in that small outboard motor boat that rows past the island in exactly the next shot after we last see Anna on the rocks? Or are there more mysterious forces at work here? (Like the later Picnic at Hanging Rock, also based upon a disappearance among mythical rocks.)
If so, it’s not really the point, for the film is not really about Anna. It’s about her friend and boyfriend staying loyal to a memory, but of a woman who scarcely deserved such devotion after death. The adventure here is not to the islands, but rather into the human soul. Here guilt rules, so that we know Sandro and Claudia’s love is doomed, even perhaps a touch unreal. After a mysterious death or suicide acquaintances always ask themselves if there is something they could have done, a futile but understandable process of elimination. None of the people on the island were responsible, or so we assume. It’s a question of picking up the pieces and carrying on as best they can.
Antonioni’s films are not quite so well regarded as once they were and certainly his later La Notte and Il Desserto Rosso don’t have the power they may once have had. Maybe the novelty has worn off. What marks L’Avventura out is that we can all relate to the emotions on screen and he is well served by his muse Monica Vitti, who is superb as the agonising Claudia. Antonioni’s film may not be an adventure in the strictest sense, but adventures are a way of enriching one’s life experience and, I assure you, you will feel that your existence is the better for seeing what is arguably Antonioni’s greatest film.