We excitedly countdown to the 72nd Festival de Cannes with a different prize winning film each day.
Prix du Jury – Michelangelo Antonioni
The last waning days of summer always have a way of ushering in a sense of ennui, along with hints of the forthcoming autumn chill. A feeling that is shared with almost all of those we meet in Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’Avventura, true happiness seems to be a commodity that these people can never afford.
We first meet Anna (Lea Massari) as she is setting off for a trip with friends to cruise around islands in the Mediterranean. Anna is young, and gives off an air of being spoiled and tempestuous, as we see her conversing with her father outside their villa. Topic of conversation leads to Anna’s relationship and her father’s disapproval of the man in question.
The conversation gets brushed aside at the introduction of her close friend, Claudia (Monica Vitti), coming up the path. Sole attention stays with Anna, though, and we are lead to believe that Claudia is nothing more than a comrade who exists to bolster Anna, and listen to all her salacious romantic liaisons. But this is one of the first ways Antonioni plays with his anticipating audience.
“In L’Avventura, Antonioni shows that subversion is a clay and he molds it at his will.”
In L’Avventura, Antonioni shows that subversion is a clay and he molds it at his will with the varied characters sprinkled throughout. People are not always what they seem, and events may not always play out as you would anticipate.
The mysterious man in Anna’s life is soon revealed to be the charming but enigmatic, Sandro (Gabriele Ferzetti). The impending trip must wait as we witness a look into the troubled, yet crackling, connection between the two lovers. Stalking the room and dropping her handbag, Anna eyes down Sandro, and they spar for a time before giving into carnal desires.
Meanwhile, the patient Claudia waits outside, and soon gets the hint of what is transpiring upstairs. But soon the three are on there way to the coast to meet with the well to do people who they will be spending the holiday with. Anna squeezed tightly in-between Sandro and Claudia, as the compact white sports car speeds along, which is almost a premonition of things to come.
Starting off relatively smooth, the cracks in the veneer of this luxurious sailing trip start to show, with Anna subtly tipping the first domino. Suddenly leaping into the water, Anna, with ease, swims further and further away from all those looking on from the boat. A cry out of seeing a shark nearby halts the morning dip for all, but Anna soon confines in Claudia that she essentially cried wolf and that there was no shark at all.
A slightly disapproving Claudia looks on as Anna giggles over her attempt to test Sandro’s devotion to her. Yet in passing we see that her ruse didn’t quite hit the spot she desired it to, or bring her the confidence in the relationship she craves so desperately. One moment we feel as if Sandro is nothing but a plaything for Anna, and the next we get a glimpse of how important this relationship might be to her.
“Not only is Antonioni dangling Anna as a point of interest to us, but also to Claudia.”
Not only is Antonioni dangling Anna as a point of interest to us, but also to Claudia. Subtly we see hints that she may be a bit more preoccupied with her friend’s life than she lets on. While changing out of their damp swim suits, Claudia slips on one of Anna’s blouses and admires herself in the mirror. Noticing this, Anna insists that she keep it as it looks much more becoming on her.
There is a certain weight to this exchange running under the surface, despite it parading as a simple exchange between friends. It may be very subtle, but it seems to have a subtle meaning and, more than anything, a slight foreshadowing of events yet to come.
Reaching the island, there is nothing to convince that this will be any different from any other day spent sailing and exploring the rocky shoreline. Soon, though, the group separates, and we get more obvious clues at the unrest amongst all of them through small vignettes.
Most notably, Anna and Sandro slip away to a secluded area, and begin a tense conversation over the state of their relationship. Sandro, not in the mood to discuss all the small complications concerning Anna, takes a nap, leaving her despondent and alone with her thoughts. Resting up against the rocks, her weary eyes stare blankly at no point in particular.
The once idle day becomes overcome with a dark cloud, as the sudden out of the blue disappearance of Anna is noticed by everyone. The weather also takes a turn for the worst, and with it a majority of the party heads back to land, and to report to local authorities the occurrence of the afternoon.
“The film continues at a back and forth pace.”
Claudia and Sandro stay behind to search, but no sign of Anna is anywhere to be found. Sandro claims that this is another stunt of hers to get attention, while Claudia accuses his neglect of her friend to be the cause – which he takes offense to. In a fit of grief and frustration, Claudia runs out into the pouring rain and calls out to Anna one last time, before retiring for the night.
By morning, the storm has passed, and digging around her bag, Claudia pulls out the blouse given to her by Anna, and puts it on as she journeys out to the cliffside, as the sun rises against the horizon. Sandro joins her, and they begin to further discuss Anna, yet a change can be detected as Sandro shows a newly growing attraction to Claudia. Authorities soon arrive, yet find nothing, and Anna’s father insists that she couldn’t have resorted to suicide. Though at this point nothing seems certain, yet grasp for straws we must.
The film continues at a back and forth pace, between the growing attraction between Claudia and Sandro, to the futile attempts to locate Anna. Antonioni does not seem to be overly concerned with continuity, as the story abruptly switches to the exploits of the lustful relationship Claudia finds in her missing friend’s lover, as the concern over Anna seems to fade further from our minds. At first, Sandro follows any clue he can to track down any possible leads, on what may have happened after that day on the islands, but soon becomes much more preoccupied with courting Claudia.
Is it grief that brings these two together. Or possibly the expected route of people who lead such easy life of luxury, holidays and wealth. At first, Claudia resists this draw to Sandro yet finds herself soon in his arms, and her friend further from her mind. In fact, the possibility of Anna being found alive brings more dread than hope, as it would mean the crumbling of the affair found between the two.
“L’Avventura has an ending that is elusive and remembered for the commitment it has in not tying things up.”
L’Avventura has an ending that is elusive and remembered for the commitment it has in not tying things up. Anna, who we started this story with, is soon nothing more than a hazy phantom that is practically forgotten, yet cannot fully disappear from our minds. After having the almost fantasy facade of her budding attraction to Sandro cracked with the abrupt discovery of his infidelity, Claudia flees.
Outside, as the dawn rises like it once did on that morning along the rocky cliffs of the island, we find Claudia and Sandro once more. Once again, there is the ever present sense of ennui along with despair and fatigue. Tears soon run down Sandro’s cheeks, and Claudia holds a stony glance as she looks down at his crumpled frame.
In a way, Claudia has almost stepped into the shoes of her old friend. What innocently started out with the gift of a blouse, now finds her in the mind space Anna may have had once, and the passion and pain that seems to be found in the arms of Sandro. Hesitating at first, Claudia’s hand reaches up and caresses the back of Sandro’s head, with what may be a new sobered realization. In the end, L’Avventura is a gorgeously shot film, but at the end, like the characters, we can’t help but be left with a sense of emptiness and longing.