The character of Claudia – arguably the narrative centre of the film, offering the perspective that shapes most of the audience’s impressions and attachments – embodies Antonioni’s approach to character development and the importance of visual style to that approach. We learn more about Claudia by watching her change from one outfit to another (including a dress borrowed from Anna), make funny faces in the mirror while she is alone in her hotel room, or wander through an art gallery than we do during the brief exchanges of dialogue between her and Sandro, by turns opaque and clichéd. Monica Vitti appears in important roles in all of the films in the tetralogy, and her performance style – a combination of organic sensuality and selfconscious posing, like a fashion model captured in a documentary – is a key element in the new cinematic grammar that Antonioni develops during this period. Prior to L’Avventura, Vitti had been a stage actress, unknown to film audiences. Her experience on stage lends itself to Antonioni’s cinematic style; she performs without directly engaging the camera, permitting Antonioni to position her at the periphery of the frame without undermining the audience’s interest in her.
In Italian, ‘l’avventura’ holds two meanings – an ‘adventure’ in the broad sense of the term and a romantic ‘affair’. The film plays with this doubleness, moving between two possible narrative strands – the adventure of solving the mystery of Anna’s disappearance and the adventure of Sandro and Claudia’s romance. For Antonioni, the concept of the ‘adventure’ also suggests a new cinematic approach to developing characters. In his ‘Cannes statement’, Antonioni famously reported, ‘Eros is sick’. Antonioni’s diagnosis leads to a broader declaration about the importance of moving beyond the emphasis on individual psychology that defines most commercial films:
“To be critically aware of the vulgarity and the futility of such an overwhelming erotic impulse, as is the case with the protagonist in L’Avventura, is not enough or serves no purpose. And here we witness the crumbling of a myth, which proclaims it is enough for us to know, to be critically conscious of ourselves, to analyze ourselves, in all our complexities and in every facet of our personality. The fact that matters is that such an examination is not enough. It is only a preliminary step. Every day, every emotional encounter gives rise to a new adventure.3”
To the extent that art cinema functions as a coherent genre, one of its features has been an emphasis on the interiority of characters. Antonioni externalises interiority. L’Avventura is a turning point in film history not only because it marks a radical break from the narrative and aesthetic conventions of commercial cinema but also because it marks a new movement within art cinema – an exploration of interiority through an emphasis on the visual surface of the film.
1. The complete letter and list of signatures, originally circulated by the Bulletin du Festival de Cannes, is included in the booklet accompanying the Region 1 DVD release of L’Avventura by The Criterion Collection.
2. Robert Koehler, ‘Great Wide Open: L’Avventura’, www.bfi.org.uk/news/great-wide-open-lavventura.
3. The complete statement has been reprinted in English in the Criterion DVD booklet.
Cast and Crew:
[Country: Italy, France. Production Company: Cino del Duca. Director: Michelangelo Antonioni. Producer: Amato Pennasilico. Screenwriters: Michelangelo Antonioni, Elio Bartolini and Tonino Guerra. Cinematographer: Aldo Scavarda. Music: Giovanni Fusco. Editor: Eraldo da Roma. Cast: Gabriele Ferzetti (Sandro), Monica Vitti (Claudia), Lea Massari (Anna), Dominique Blanchar (Giulia), James Addams (Corrado), Lelio Luttazzi (Raimondo), Esmerelda Ruspoli (Patrizia).]
Michelangelo Antonioni, The Architecture of Vision: Writings and Interviews on Cinema, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2007.
Seymour Chatman, Antonioni, or, The Surface of the World, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1985.
Geoffrey Nowell-Smith, L’Avventura, London, British Film Institute, 1997.
Laura Rascaroli and John David Rhodes (eds), Antonioni: Centenary Essays, London, British Film Institute, 2011.
Angelo Restivo, The Cinema of Economic Miracles: Visuality and Modernization in the Italian Art Film, Durham, Duke University Press, 2002.
The Routledge Encyclopedia of Films, Edited by Sarah Barrow, Sabine Haenni and John White, first published in 2015.