Monday, October 02, 2006

L'Avventura (1960)

"I simply loathe it, yet I must conform." This line, spoken early in Michelangelo Antonioni's penetrating portrait of aimlessness and ennui in the modern world, cuts straight to the heart of his argument. In the world Antonioni sees, experience has been replaced by sensation; nothing carries any weight and everything is ephemeral because nothing holds interest for very long. (A journalist comments, "The whole thing is stale," during the Gloria Perkins scene, and though he's referring to the fame of Ms. Perkins, the statement undoubtedly applies to the lifestyle of consumption on display here.) The constant application of sensation, the numbing effect of the unquenchable desire for the shock of the new, wreaks havoc with the inner life of the protagonists; rather than deal with the painful aftershocks of soul death, the people in this film shut that part of themselves off entirely. When they speak, their words mean nothing, since there's no emotion behind it; as such, they stop being individuals and become mere functions of their environment. So it should only seem natural that the environment would eventually swallow one of these people whole -- they've already disappeared into their lifestyles, so what's the difference if they disappear for good? Sandro tells Anna right before she vanishes, "Words are becoming less and less necessary, they create misunderstandings," which can also be said about Antonioni's storytelling approach here. It makes perfect sense, using gorgeous images and gestures to tell a story about people obsessed with appearance and who speak in meaningless phrases; the difference is that Antonioni's images carry all the weight that his characters disallow themselves. It's a gorgeous and haunting thing, with a marvelously blank performance from Monica Vitti that hits all the notes that were squeezed out of Red Desert. the last shot, in particular, offers either a glimmer of hope (the birthing of empathy!) or a nihilistic endgame (two soulless beings uniting via their soullessness), and it's to Antonioni's eternal credit that either possibility is satisfying and fascinating in its own right.

Grade: A-


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