It is a film about a group of high society adventurers who go on a boat trip through some islands, only to have a woman passenger literally disappear, practically into thin air. Her boyfriend and her best friend search for her in the ensuing days, only to fall for each other, and that is about it. This is, of course, the most superficial level possible.
L’avventura is quite interesting visually and I wish I could have seen it on the big screen. The reality is, oftentimes, not a whole lot is happening, but it causes you to actually focus on the images in the frame. Michelangelo Antonioni gives us numerous settings all over Italy, and most have something to do with the wanderings of natural beauty Claudia (Monica Vitti) or her companion Sandro.
Anna (Lea Massari), despite her early importance, is hardly in the film. She is only a wisp in the wind and the mystery surrounding her is of lesser importance. The outcome is what matters as her friend and boyfriend become lovers. Theirs is the relationship that is explored as it develops, evolves, and becomes fully tested.
In the final moments, Antonioni toys with us, suggesting just possibly that Anna might be in the picture again. In fact, he must have a very cruel sense of humor indeed. Here in L’avventura as well as Blow-up (1966) he waves a mystery in front of our nose and leaves it unresolved. It is absolutely maddening, in some respects, and yet he makes us look at something else altogether. He also had the gall to name a film with a meandering plot like this L’Avventura! The nerve of it all, and yet I respect him for it because it messes with our conventions and forces us to be uncomfortable.
It is understandable that this was a polarizing film at Cannes in 1960, and I can only imagine that it has the same effect over 50 years later. One thing is for sure. This is no Gilligan’s Island with a three-hour cruise set in Italy. There is a lot more to it than the plot. Not my favorite adventure, but I respect its pure audaciousness of form.