Tuesday, 4 May 2010

L'Avventura (1960)

Synopsis: Rich but bored group of friends sail out to a rocky island off Sicily. One of them, Anna, goes missing. In the search for Anna, her lover Sandro and best friend Claudia become attracted to one another. The group eventually return to their empty parties and ennui, with Claudia and Sandro going through the motions as a couple.

This film was part of the 50th anniversary of Psycho season at the BFI Southbank. I didn't watch it there though. After watching Antonioni's La Notte not so long ago I ordered L'Avventura on DVD immediately. Both films are part of a loose trilogy on Italian upper class ennui.

The interesting thing about this film is that the critics (Ebert, Kael) talk up the existential themes (boredom, discontent) but my immediate response was that the relationship between Sandro and Claudia highlights the difficulties of new romantic attachments. So, I was slightly confused at my total misreading of the film until I re-read a book on Antonioni in which he says himself that the film is also about the terror of a difficult new relationship.

The two most violent (and by violent I don't mean blood and guts but something out of character and shocking) scenes in the film were when Sandro first kisses Claudia and when he knocks over the ink on the drawing. Both actions display an unrepentant and almost psychopathic arrogance and are both terrifying in their own ways.

First, the kiss. Remember, this is the day after Anna has gone missing. We have had no indication that Claudia and Sandro had feelings for each other previously or that Sandro is taking 'comfort' in Claudia. During the search for Anna on the island (which is a character in itself - rocks falling, rough waves, wind and rain) we see them both passing glances at each other and we start to see what might be happening. But you keep thinking 'his fiancee and her best friend is missing, possibly dead, and he's giving her the eye??, this cannot be!'. It's almost as if throughout the search when we, the viewer, get a really strong sense of Anna's presence (through certain camera POVs being hers etc.), their memories of her are slipping away.

We then realise that Claudia is becoming distressed at the thought of her friend being missing/dead. She makes her way back to the boat and Sandro follows. We know that he is feeling something toward her and he is insistent, even when it is totally inappropriate (Anna's disappearance is the elephant in the room).

A bit like Dangerous Liaisons - you've got that tragic game playing. Sandro chases and chases poor Claudia until she's exhausted and gives in. From that moment onward, you get a really threatening sense in his treatment of her. He doesn't love or care for her, but sees her as another piece in his game playing. Their exchanges become pure wordplay, his attempted seductions are tense and uncomfortable and then flippant and his climactic treatment of her (when she catches him with a prostitute) is disgusting and tragic. The final scene of the film, in which a distraught Claudia comforts a sobbing Sandro shows a real truth; that relationships are messy and with the best will in the world, once you are attached to someone it can be difficult to judge even their worst actions. Claudia accepts her place with Sandro (although we'll never know for how long), holding a mirror up to every dysfunctional relationship out there.

The other violent scene involves the ink drawing. With Claudia back in their hotel room, Sandro is wandering the streets. He comes across a couple of young men, one of whom is sketching with ink. He is a trainee architect (Sandro has sold out as a designer and no longer creates anything of worth) drawing details of a building. Sandro approaches, swinging his watch on a chain/key ring (?) and as he gets nearer to the work we foresee what is about to happen. Sandro 'accidentally' knocks the ink bottle on to the drawing, ruining it. Impudent, childish and spiteful.

This film may concentrate on boredom and how despondent the upper classes can be, but this manifests itself in a very sad relationship. Claudia is the only real conscience and even she is getting off with her best mate's boyfriend about three days after she's gone.

As this was part of the Psycho season, I was looking out for parallels with Hitchcock and once you start spotting them, you can't stop. Here are a few of my faves:

- Immaculate, beautiful, blonde heroine in Monica Vitti (Psycho, Vertigo, The Birds, To Catch a Thief etc.)
- Crowd of rough looking men surrounding Claudia like the rooks on the climbing frame in The Birds
- Sandro and Claudia go up in a nunnery clock tower a la Vertigo

More info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0053619/

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