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L'AVVENTURA
Blu-ray Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Gabriele Ferzetti, Monica Vitti, Lea Massari
Director:  Michelangelo Antonioni
Audio:  PCM Mono
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.77:1
Studio:  Criterion
Features:  See Review
Length:  143 Minutes
Release Date:  November 25, 2014

Film ***

Perhaps the mother of all “McGuffins”, Michelangelo Antonioni’s film L’Avventura might make you think for a little while that it’s the mystery of a strange disappearance.  But that’s merely an event that fills moments, and lingers on in the memories and senses of the principal characters as a waft of smoke left from an extinguished candle.  The other McGuffin might be the title itself…though it translates to The Adventure, this is a picture with no excitement; rather the opposite.  It’s a slow, somber look at a few empty lives and their meager attempts at finding fleeting satisfaction.

It’s important to remember that in 1960, this picture both embraced and expressed existentialism, a curious movement that encouraged contemplation about who we are and why we are here.  There were no real answers, however, leaving much of the art feeling as arbitrary as existence itself.  Works like Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot or Antonioni’s L’Avventura are products of this distinct period of though; outside of it, neither could have been made, nor would they have been as greatly appreciated.

Though the trailer wants to market it as an erotic picture, the truth is, sex in this movie is just another cold, shallow replacement for real connections between people.  This is a theme that permeates the film, and is made clear very near the beginning when Anna (Masari) and her long distance lover Sandro (Ferzetti) meet prior to a boating trip for what should be passionate lovemaking.  Instead, the sex is by-the-numbers, photographed off-center within the framing, and filled with curious moments such as Anna’s obvious distraction.

The outing to the rocky islands is an event filled with more empty people, such as Anna’s best friend, Claudia (Vitti), along with some other couples.  On the rocky shore of the small island, Anontioni’s photography is at its best, hinting at something ethereal and in turmoil.

Anna, after another pointless discussion with Sandro, claims she wants to be alone.  Soon, her boating companions are aware that she has, in fact, disappeared with no trace.  Searching is fruitless.  Vague clues seem to pop up here and there throughout the course of the picture, but this is an event with no resolution, much like the lives of the people involved.

Claudia has lost a friend; Sandro a lover.  The fact that they end up in each others’ arms is hardly romantic; as critic Pauline Kael observed, these are people who aren’t deep enough to be really lonely.  Loneliness equates with a real desire to make contact; these people are merely empty and looking for the most available object to fill the void the vanishing Anna left in their lives.

Antonioni speaks volumes about his characters with his camerawork and the way he positions them within the frame.  If characters aren’t truly communicating, as is often the case in this film, they are rarely facing one another.  Often, one will facing the camera, the other will have his or her back turned to it.  Individuals are sometimes disorientingly off-center, or too near the bottom of the frame, as the natural world seems to engulf and suppress them.  The final shot is a memorable one, as two sad souls face away from the camera…so far gone is their ability to connect that we, the audience, are only left with a final impression of the backs of their heads.

Other later films have explored the notion of characters with suppressed emotions having something of an inexplicable nature happen to them while they explore the non-judgmental natural world.  Like Anna, the schoolgirls in Picnic at Hanging Rock vanish without a trace.  Or Adela in A Passage to India, where we’re never quite sure what happened to her in the middle of a cave where echoes were so intense that speech became indecipherable.

The difference is, Antonioni slowly coaxes you not to think about the mystery as the movie progresses.  If one sees the film and only wonders at the end about Anna, the point has been lost.  That point is, the next logical step from emptiness is disappearance.  Anna is missed but not mourned.  For the listless, the bored, and the perpetually empty, life goes on.

Video ****

This is a breathtakingly beautiful high definition black and white anamorphic transfer from Criterion!  For a nearly two-and-a-half hour movie, I could only spot a couple of very minor print problems…the rest of the image is clean, crisp, with amazing contrast and deep blacks, a full range of grayscale, and no distortion, softness or other artifacts to mar the picture.  As mentioned, Antonioni’s deep-focus camera work is quite amazing, and this transfer captures all the subtlety, nuance and detail of his imagery.  This disc will absolutely thrill fans of classic and foreign films.

Audio ***

The uncompressed single channel audio track is surprisingly dynamic, with a full scope of effects that sometimes plays out with harsh contrast to the quieter moments.  Dialogue is very clean and clear throughout.  A bit of age shows through in the slight noise evident as the movie grows quiet, but it’s not a distraction.

Features ***1/2

The extras start with a terrific and very informative commentary track by film historian Gene Youngblood.  A devoted fan of the picture, he shares a wealth of knowledge about L’Avventura, its historical importance, and its creation of a new cinematic language.  There is an hour long documentary, Antonioni: Documents and Testimonials, plus writings by Antonioni read by Jack Nicholson, who also offers his own thoughts on the director (a very cool supplement).  There is also a trailer and a good restoration demonstration.

Summary:

Booed by the audience at Cannes but later awarded a special Jury Prize at the same festival, L’Avventura is not the kind of film that will appeal to everyone.  Though every bit as daring as it is restrained, it really is the product of a specific time in history, where existentialism was the philosophical flavor of the day.  But the film is still an important cinematic event that marks that place in history, and its many fans will be delighted with this restored Blu-ray offering from Criterion.

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