A film titled The Adventure promises exciting happenings, but is quite the opposite of that and really a story of ennui and decadence in the upper crust of Italian society. A rich socialite Anna (Lea Massari) is in love with the jaded rake Sandro (He will never marry you – her father tells her). Sandro (Gabriele Ferzetti) professes to love Anna very much and wants to marry her. The couple, and Anna’s friend, Claudia (Monica Vitti) go along with other friends on a cruise, on a yacht belonging to the constantly weary and bored Princess Giulia (Dominique Blancher). They go ashore and Anna and Sandro quarrel.
After a nap on the inhospitable island people discover that Anna is missing. A frantic search ensues and an atmosphere of mystery and intrigue is created by Caludia hearing a boat going away from the Island. A sinister lone island dweller claims there is no boat. Claudia and others walk all over the island and peer into ravines with crashing waves. Anna’s diplomat father brings in the coast guard but there is no sign of the girl. Sandro and Claudia continue the search for Anna, and then Sandro shocks Claudia (and us!) by kissing her. She pushes him away as she cannot believe that he would get over Anna so fast. The mysteriously missing Anna looms over the story, but is never seen again, nor is there any explanation for where she could have disappeared to.
We then see Claudia and Sandro apparently searching for Anna, while cohabiting in random hotel rooms. Their love for each other seems stale and matches what we see of relationships their friends have. In the ending sequence Claudia waits for Sandro to come back from a party. Finally she goes looking for him, much as she went searching for Anna. There it was the deserted and desolate island; here it is the remains and random debris of a party. She finds Sandro with a call girl and runs away in despair. Antonioni tells us it was inevitable that Sandro, who betrayed Anna hours after she disappeared, would now betray Claudia. In the ending moments we see them, Sandro weeping uncontrollably, and Claudia with her hand on his head.
Just as Antonioni sets us up with a “is there a body in the park” in Blowup, he sets us up with a mysterious disappearance in L’avventura. But these mysterious occurrences are not the main point of either film.
Anna is never seen again, nor is there any resolution to her absence. Rather we are given an inside look into the lives of the rich and jaded, who constantly search for new adventures (Anna’s pretend shark sighting when they swim in the ocean, the Princess too bored to even have an affair with her gigolo friend), new relationships. They have no moral compass and nothing to look forward to. Their lives are on an even keel of boredom. This insight into the lives of the rich of Italy in the 60s can be contrasted with the look at Victorian era morals in Picnic At Hanging Rock (Peter Weir). There too we have adventure, and a mysterious disappearance into the rock formations, the mystery remaining forever unresolved.
I saw the Criterion Collection version, digitally remastered to perfection. The movie is in luminous black and white and every shot seems lovingly framed, the white buildings, Sandro in a light colored suit, and then we see Claudia coming towards him in a dark dress. Breathtakingly beautiful scenes like this pepper the whole film. Awarded at Cannes (after the first screening was booed by the audience), highly successful, the film created an instant star in Monica Vitti.
If you want a real adventure story then L’avventura is NOT for you. But if you want an enigmatic albeit beautiful look at the rich and bored, then this is one not to be missed.
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