Corrierino Consensus Project: L’avventura

19 12 2012

The users of The Corrierino forums have recently compiled a consensus list of the best films ever made. Once the votes were tallied, calls for write-ups began and I signed up to pen a few. I will post my entries here as they’re revealed in the relevant thread



L’avventura is about travel and landscape, physical displacement as a representation of inward soul-searching. This was not new in 1960, when the film was released. Rossellini had paved the path during the 50s, with Journey to Italy and Stromboli, melodramas where the relationship between the characters and their surrounding space is the central conflict. Even further back, Peixoto’s 1931 Brazilian cult classic Limite had wandering protagonists in long takes of emptiness and loneliness. There are likely previous examples as well, but Antonioni seems to have perfected, crystallized, or at the very least popularized a cinematic idea. His characters roam empty or barren landscapes: a rocky island, an abandoned town. Their movement through these environments is curious and probing. Sandro and Claudia are, ostensibly, looking for a lost friend, but their investigation has a tired, weary, absentminded quality. They search without pretending to find anyone. Eventually, the search is its own rationale, its own motivation, a hunt for a reason to hunt.

One of the curious results of late neo-realism was not the fruition of a documentarian aesthetic, but the emergence of subjective mindscapes. In Umberto D, the broken apartment and the dangerous city function like extensions of the protagonist’s emotions and fears. Near the end, while preparing to commit suicide, Umberto attempts to murder his dog, so that it might not have to live alone. He watches an incoming train and prepares to throw the canine under it. And then, finally, he desists. The scene is pure, subjective, expressive power: billowing smoke, screeching brakes, the trembling of the passing train, Umberto with his mouth open in a soundless scream, an inch away from death. Rossellini would transition from the clumsy, unpolished Open City to Stromboli, where Ingrid Bergman copes with a landscape that is totally other, totally alien. The camera juxtaposes her body with the wild, untamed land behind her, threatening to swallow her up, down into the volcanic danger of the earth. By the time we get to L’avventura, the camera is building metaphysical playgrounds. The more the frame fixates on fragments of architecture and landscape, the more they seem unreal and virtual. Antonioni would move further in this direction, until the fantasy dystopia of Red Desert. In L’avventura we still get real locations, unaltered and unpainted, except we might as well be in Mars. Every road, every horizon, is uncanny and inhuman, somehow wrong. As the length of each take is extended, the cityscapes turn stranger, as do the natural vistas. We do not find tangible places, so much as mental constructions imagined, dreamed, or subjectively modified by the protagonists. Their physical wandering, their aimless walking, is also the perambulation of their minds.




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