L'Avventura (Michelangelo Antonioni / Italy-France, 1960):

The modern girl who vanishes and is replaced, the ancient vase that's broken with a shrug, "it figures." Rossellini laid the foundation, Michelangelo Antonioni’s unflinching dilation ponders "Europa ‘60" and its multiplicity of ominous, vacant spaces. "Islands, I don’t get them," says the dowager aboard the yacht, voicing Percy Shelley’s complaint ("stones, stones, stones, nothing but stones!") as the gigolo’s hand idly wanders under her blouse. The Roman diplomat’s daughter (Lea Massari) can no longer endure "the usual uneasiness" and evaporates in the volcanic Mediterranean terrain, as simple as that. Leading the desultory search are her architect fiancé (Gabriele Ferzetti), whose potential has been smothered by luxury, and the less affluent friend (Monica Vitti) who’s cursed with "the need to see everything clearly." People fade as rapidly as newspaper articles, the friend’s romance with the beau is a tenuous mutation fueled by anxiety and desire, a Hitchcockian switcheroo of brunettes and blondes. The steady progression toward the necessarily painful awareness of spiritual dislocation is delineated as a cycle of bravura cold-shoulder sequences, in which the gaps between people and stretched time become supporting characters: A socialite half-heartedly rolling in bed with an estranged lover while her friend downstairs strolls into a small art gallery, a pricey moll with a ripped skirt luxuriating at the center of a male frenzy, a stung wife being chased around an atelier by a horny mini-Picasso. "What do you feel when you paint?" "A shudder." Always fusing neo-realism with science-fiction, Antonioni’s world is one of superfices and emotions hardening into titanium; communication is a set of enormous church bells connected across wide distances by flimsy ropes, remembrances are just a name for money tossed at a prostitute’s feet. And yet, there’s the romantic impulse to rush after the departing train, the middle-class couple making an argument against aestheticism ("love first... then music"), and the compassionate caress that lingers even if dwarfed by looming architecture and unmoved landscape. La Notte and L’Eclisse push on with the investigation, their hope more and more frail. Cinematography by Aldo Scavarda. With Dominique Blanchar, Renzo Ricci, James Addams, Dorothy De Poliolo, and Leilo Lutazzi. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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