Michelangelo Antonioni, Elio Bartolini, and Tonino Guerra (writer), Michelangelo Antonioni,
(director), L’Avventura / 1960
When L’Avventura was first shown at the 1960 Cannes Film Festival, the audience expressed their hostility to the film with whistles, foot-stamping, and derisive shouts. Although the movie was more enthusiastically received by the critics, and won that year’s Special Jury Prize, its American premiere resulted in a near-complete puzzlement on the part of noted critics such as Bosley Crowther, writing in The New York Times. “Watching L’Avventura (“The Adventure”), which came to the Beekman yesterday, is like trying to follow a showing of a picture at which several reels have gotten lost. Just when it seems to be beginning to make a dramatic point or to develop a line of continuity that will crystallize into some sense, it will jump into a random situation that appears as if it might be due perhaps three reels later and never explain what has been omitted.” “’Tis strange,” Crowther concluded.
…films do not have to be structured around major
events, that very little drama can happen and a film
can still be fascinating to its audience. It also showed—
and this was harder for audiences to grasp—that events
in films do not have to be, in an obvious way, meaning-
ful. L’Avventura presents its characters behaving accord-
ing to motivations unclear to themselves as much as to
the audience. …They are, to use a word very fashionable
at the time the film came out, alienated. But to say, as
many critics did, that the film is “about” alienation is to
miss the point. The film shows, it doesn’t argue.
In short, while still admitting to the difficulty of Antonioni’s cinema masterwork, admirers argued—concurring with the director’s own comments published in his Cannes Statement—that the narrative was a non-psychological one, that although the characters might be aware of their erotic impulses, being conscious of them does not diminish their force: “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. For even though we know that the ancient codes of morality are decrepit and no longer tenable, we persist, with a sense of perversity that I would only ironically define as pathetic, in remaining loyal to them.” Nowell-Smith argues that this non-psychological approach, in fact, changed the face of cinema in representing its characters as doing unexpected things in unexpected places, as acting in ways which are recognizable perhaps but which do not conform to the previous cinematic “clichés of how we think things ought to happen.”
Los Angeles, July 12, 2006