Reviewed by: Ben Sillis

Michaelangelo Antonioni has always used suspense in his films – but where Hollywood usually takes the audience on a 100-minute ride back to the beginning again, the veteran Italian director uses the tension he creates to make a much more subtle comment on society. His 1960 film L'Avventura hinges on the disappearance of the apparent star to reveal what he sees as the rotten core at the heart of post-war Italy.

It all seems so straight forward at first. Anna (Lea Massari) is wealthy and indifferent, unable to work out whether she wants rich surveyor Sandro (Gabriele Ferzetti) but happy to sleep with him in the mean time. Her apparently shy friend Claudia (Monica Vitti) can only look on as Anna draws the blinds or steals the attention of the men on a cruise with friends. Sounds like anything from The Discrete Charm Of The Bourgeoisie to Breakfast At Tiffany's so far. But her disappearance on a small island on their trip turns from minor annoyance to serious concern, and brings Sandro and Claudio to the fore as they scour the country for clues.

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If the mystery disappearance sounds like a MacGuffin, it's probably because it's an apt term: L'Avventura has the air of suspense of a Hitchcock thriller (The Italian Waif vanishes, so to speak) and just as much loaded significance as Vertigo. But where James Stewart saw Kim Novak in every female, Antonioni's film uses a woman's disappearance to underline Italy's newly found apathy. Although Sandro and Claudio are unable to grieve for Anna (the uninterested police fail to find a body very quickly), we soon get the feeling that they simply couldn't anyway, not least because the two become lovers within days. Like Anna and Sandro at the start, however, their union is hardly based on any substantial feeling of love or even lust, simply indifference, and it's not long before the latter ends up in the arms of a pop starlet.

Antonioni seems to blame money, fame and consumerism for this malaise: it's hinted that Anna may have vanished just to attract attention or stir some emotion within her. In one telling scene shortly before her exit, she cries wolf (or shark) in the sea to panic her swimming friends, but she later admits to timid Claudia that there wasn't one.

For Antonioni, regeneration and restoration after the fall of Fascism have come at too high a price. In its bleak portrayal of post-war Italy, L'Avventura is not so different from Fellini's La Dolce Vita or Pasolini's Hawks And Sparrows, despite the varying genres. Each of the directors in their own way depicts the numbing consumerism eating away at the soul of Italy: Fellini in his paparazzo's inability to stop chasing the high life, Pasolini in the “Las Vegas” cafe he places in the middle of the destitute countryside and Antonioni in the pair's rapidly waning interest in finding Anna.

One scene captures this euthanising materialism perfectly, when Sandro and Claudia arrive at a newly built and deserted town on their hunt for Anna. Sandro probably helped design the town, not that he either cares or remembers, and they move swiftly on after a few token attempts at calling out her name (it's left unsaid that the town is empty because no one can afford to move there).

It's a message that could all too easily come across as banging a drum from a very high horse (Money=bad). Antonioni's direction is subtle, however, and his argument much more than left-wing hand wringing. And solid direction isn't the film's only selling point: the bleached cinematography perfectly captures the sweltering heat that accompanies the search (proving you don't need darkness for an eerie mis en scene), and for once it's a compliment to say that the cast make their characters seem like empty vessels. That tragic diagnosis is L'Avventura's crux: Italy rebuilt itself from the rubble, but in the haste to make money once more they left everyone and everything hollow.

Reviewed on: 05 Jul 2008
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L'Avventura packshot
After a woman disappears her lover and best friend search for her, only to find they are falling for one another.
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Director: Michelangelo Antonioni

Writer: Michelangelo Antonioni, Michelangelo Antonioni, Elio Bartolini, Tonino Guerra

Starring: Gabriele Ferzetti, Monica Vitti, Lea Massari, Dominique Blanchar, Renzo Ricci, James Addams, Dorothy De Poliolo, Lelio Luttazzi, Giovanni Petrucci, Esmeralda Ruspoli, Jack O'Connell

Year: 1960

Runtime: 141 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: Italy, France


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If you like this, try:

La Dolce Vita
Hawks And Sparrows