Thursday, June 26, 2008

[Michelangelo Antonioni Retrospective] L’Avventura (The Adventure) (1960)

The Fling

It's on one hand hard to imagine that L'Avventura got booed by the audience in Cannes back in the May 1960 edition of the film festival, then on the other, perhaps it was a film quite ahead of its time, if compared with the earlier Michelangelo Antonioni movies which preceded it with no more than a decade separating them, there isn't really a clear-cut narrative structure here that his earlier movies had employed. Nonetheless in today's context, many believe that it's one of the greatest films in the world, but I think for me it would take repeated viewings to enjoy L'Avventura more thoroughly and to think deeper into it.

As Lorenzo Codelli explained, while Federico Fellini's La Dolce Vita was awarded the Palme d'Or for that year in Cannes, L'Avventura walked away with the Jury Award, no doubt thanks to a band of international critics who had rallied around it after its dismal screening. And it was after the success of L'Avventura that Michelangelo Antonioni became much more daring and ambitious in his filmmaking career, giving us the loose Alienation trilogy which consists of this movie, La Notte and L'Eclisse. The alienation term used back then refers much to the feeling of a newly affluent society, where the low/middle class aspire to be the middle/upper class, and therein lies various existential, psychological and moral problems, which Antonioni became a master of exploring these themes subtly in his movies, which is quite opposite in style to Fellini's movies which were more in-your-face (and with that being said, I'm more than convinced to give Fellini's films a go too)

But to an average movie goer like myself, the opening score sets the mood and tone for the film, in quite an ominous manner. Granted I had done a bit of homework on the movie and how its story developed, but nothing beats having to experience it for yourself, and leaving the technicalities aside to allow for emotions to flow right until the simple end credit flashed on the screen.

We follow Anna (Lea Massari) and Claudia (Monica Vitti) as they prepare themselves for a sea excursion with a group of friends, which includes Sandro (Gabriele Ferzetti) whom Anna has not seen in a month. However, this time apart didn't make the heart grow fonder for Anna, and to me, I thought she was indeed a hard woman to please, probably because Sandro couldn't satisfy her, both physically and emotionally. And to think that I've experienced for myself the incomprehensible emotion interpreted through an uttered "I want to be alone" statement before, Anna's cold reaction toward Sandro leaves him perplexed, confused and likely in frustration, as her no-reply to his probing eventually causes indifference.

Come to think of it, all three are quite unlikeable characters, easily with flaws that we can identify with ourselves. For Anna, if she had not consciously chosen to make herself scarce, then it's quite highly irresponsible for her to do a Houdini, and take off without a trace, knowing that in any group excursions, your friends are likely to (unless you made bad choices on who you call friends) exhaust all possibilities in their search for your whereabouts. Despite it being a small rock island, it is still fairly large with its varying landscapes, and dizzying, dangerous cliffs. And like Lost the television series fashion, a number of strange incidents occur, such as an Australian who appeared from nowhere in the rain, and the sounds of many unseen, but heard of, boats, which continue to plant ideas in your mind.

Making up a shark incident too to spoil the day for others just because you're feeling lousy, tells of a very selfish nature. So it's probably good riddance that we never see her ever again. It made me wonder too if love lost and wanting to be alone meant ditching all your current friends and current lifestyle, in order to bury memories and start everything afresh, which is quite an extreme behaviour.

So therein lies the mystery as to why the story chose to left this thread hanging. It's never fully resolved, and there are a number of theories proposed at one point or another in the narrative, but that's just it. And if you suppose with the attention now shifted to Sandro and Claudia would make things better, it just turned out to be a tip of the iceberg. I thought Antonioni's debut feature Story of a Love Affair took off from a tangent, and there were some similar parallels between the relationships of the two lovers then, and now between Claudia and Sandro. In the former movie, the lovers were kept apart by the existence of another woman. Here, the opportune with Claudia's absence set the lovers free, and paved way for the two to succumb to the advances of each other like animal magnetism. Claudia was apprehensive about throwing caution to the wind, as with most rebound cases, and almost always feel guilty about the speed at which they fall into each other's arms. Having the fear of Anna potentially re-appearing as sudden as her disappearance, repeatedly cast doubts into her new found relationship with Sandro.

Sandro continues the unflattering look at the weakness of male characters in Antonioni films. He might seem like a cad for having to forget his lover Anna at a drop of the hat, but frankly it looked as if a big weight had been lifted from his shoulders, that he need not try to appease the whims of an unreasonable woman. In 3 days he moved from what could possibly be a tragedy with Anna's unknown, unproven demise, and went ahead to forge a new romance. While he relentlessly tried to pursue the truth, in his frustration his ugly demeanour reared its ugly head, in a scene I thought was particularly interesting where he ruined a perfect work-in-progress, by spilling black ink all over it. He's a man with a roving eye, and once he had tasted the liberating forbidden fruit, probably craved for more, hence his additional dalliances with someone I thought would have been a closer resemblance toward what he had lost.

It's a tale of two halves, with the first dwelling on the mystery and its background and circumstance leading toward it, and the second essentially became like a road trip which focused on the aftermath of the characters. A running element in both halves are the time that Antonioni devoted to look at relationships, with 2 supporting sets of couples placed strategically into the story for comparison and contrast purpose. Looking at it, it seemed that married couples do have some loss in romanticism in their relationships, especially personified through Guila (Dominique Blanchar) and Corrado (James Addams), where the latter almost always chide and mocks his wife's less than keen observations. And for Guila, given the lack of respect from her husband, and being constantly flattered by a certain Prince Goffredo (Giovanni Petrucci) meant that Corrado will have to wear a green hat as she conscientiously drifted toward the lavish attention paid, and reciprocated physically.

Perhaps I failed to appreciate various subtleness in the finale which I suddenly felt the minutes tick by, in sequences that were hugely devoid of dialogue, but filled with moody melancholy, revelation and betrayal. There were hands that looked like they could strangle someone, but started to ease off and ruffled some hair instead, as if to say all was understood, forgiven, and all could be well. At least that's my interpretation of it, as with life, we see things from our own perspective, and is indeed a challenge to step back and take a broader, objective look at what had transpired.

L'Avventura gets a second screening at the National Museum Gallery Theatre during the Retrospective on Sunday 6 July at 11am.

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