Director: Michelangelo Antonioni
Cast: Gabriele Ferzetti, Monica Vitti, Lea Massari, Dominique Blanchar, Renzo Ricci, Giovanni Petrucci
Length: 143 min
Release Date: Nov 25, 2014
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1
Audio: Italian: LPCM Mono
Subtitles: English (optional)
- Audio commentary featuring film historian Gene Youngblood
- Olivier Assayas on “L’avventura,” an analysis of the film in three parts
- Antonioni: Documents and Testimonials, a fifty-eight-minute documentary by Gianfranco Mingozzi from 1966
- Writings by director Michelangelo Antonioni, read by actor Jack Nicholson, plus Nicholson’s personal recollections of the director
- New English subtitle translation
- An essay by critic Geoffrey Nowell-Smith, Antonioni’s statements about the film after its 1960 Cannes Film Festival premiere, and an open letter distributed at the festival
After Michelangelo Antonioni’s third feature film, I Vinti (The Vanished) was released, critics began to take note of what appeared to be Italian director’s transition out of neorealism. While his contemporaries were all championing depicting the working class, Antonioni “broke away” from the shackles of the movement by focusing on the concept of social alienation. Nowhere is this more apparent than in L’avventura (1960), a film that feels as if it belongs more in the French New Wave camp than anywhere in the Apennine Peninsula. The reason for this is simple: while other filmmakers were looking at each other for inspiration and attempted to follow trends, Antonioni sought something very different.
The film is the first installment of a trilogy continuing with La Notte (1961) and L’Eclisse (1962) respectfully. The film made starlet Monica Vitti an international sensation and L’avventura became immensely popular in art house theaters around the world. While it is considered his first mainstream success and cast notoriety on Antonioni and his then lover Monica Vitti, the film was met with a mixture of boos and cheers during the 1960 Cannes Film Festival. In spite of the Cannes audience’s knee-jerk reaction, L’avventura was awarded the Jury Prize.
With this occurrence in mind, it is easy to see how this film can be so easily mischaracterized. It fits into the trope of art films where ‘nothing happens’ and the viewer is left with nothing more than ‘parting glances’ between disillusioned youths and breathtaking shots of leaves falling from trees. That being said, L’avventura is one of those films people either love or they hate. It arguably “started” this genre.
It focuses on a group of wealthy Italians who decide to go out a boat and cruise off the coast of Sicily. When a young woman, moody and maudlin, goes missing with no clue as to what or how she could have disappeared, her boyfriend and best friend go looking for her. In the process, they fall in love and the young lady is never found. L’avventura’s characters are alienated, be it by the isolation afforded to them by their extravagant wealth or by the disaffection of their times. Nothing and yet everything moves them. They are emotional, yet emotionless. Continuing with a style he had experimented with since Le Amiche in 1955, Antonioni wanted to subvert the idea of narrative convention. Feeling that film was too linked to literary norms, Antonioni’s films began to present events as seemingly disconnected, creating a fragmented narrative whereby it was up to the viewer to create throughlines. Such ‘implied’ emotional lines were implemented through his use of long takes, a choice which led to many critics to characterize much of his work as ‘slow’ or whose pacing is way too deliberate.
However, Antonioni’s film style and its impact on filmmaking practices at the time is immeasurable, so much as that many critics regarded many of Antonioni’s stylistic choices in L’avventura as common tropes that the French New Wave built upon. “It’s easy to bash Antonioni as passé,” says critic Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune. “It’s harder, I think, to explain the cinematic power of the way his camera watches, and waits, while the people on screen stave off a dreadful loneliness.”
For this reason, Antonioni is a director who has often been discarded by many film theorists in their contextualization of this era in favor of Truffaut and Goddard. Why these two? Apart from being French, these directors made movies that were arguably more transgressive. Antonioni’s approach to filmmaking is not so meshed in ‘shaking things up’ or fundamentally restructuring cinematic language. His camera challenged the notion that major events are what move stories along. For Antonioni, the little moments mean everything. While Goddard hoped to relieve film of its bourgeois elements, and Truffaut championed the superiority of the auteur, Antonioni was more focused on storytelling. Or perhaps more precisely, telling a story through cinematic language.
Criterion’s new 4k restoration of L’avventura, from the original camera negative is in every way spectacular. Detail has stunning clarity, film grain looks totally natural, and gray scale looks consistently well balanced across the whole spectrum. As sharp as the detail is, there is no sign of edge sharpening, or DNR filtering. There is also no visible damage to the negative. In s short, this is undoubtedly the best this film has ever looked on home video.
Similarly, the 24-bit mastering of the original Italian audio track has beautifully cleaned up the sound, without making the results seem digitized or given artificial amplitude where none is needed. Dialogue is clear and easy to follow. The ambient sounds are largely responsible for the film’s subtle atmosphere, rather than the music, which is rather sparse.
Olivier Assayas’ three part essay L’avventura, along with an essay by film critic Geoffrey Nowell-Smith fit nicely into the Blu-Ray’s overall packaging. Antonioni’s original statements about the film following its 1960 Cannes Film Festival premiere, as well as his letter that was distributed at the festival offer insight as to the film’s context within Antonioni’s oeuvre. Equally as important, a few selected writings by the director are read by icon Jack Nicholson, who also reveals his personal connects and thoughtful analysis of the director’s work. Criterion’s Blu-Ray release of L’avventura features a new audio commentary by film historian Gene Youngblood, in which he painstakingly dissects Antonioni’s subtle and often dense visual language. There is also a fifty-eight-minute documentary by director Gianfranco Mingozzi titled Antonioni: Documents and Testimonials (1966). Compared to The Criterion Collection’s DVD release in June 2001, not a lot of new content is included here, except for Gene Youngblood’s inspirational new commentary track. All in all, the extras Criterion provides for the film are pretty extensive.
For a director who is regarded as passé by certain film critics, these extras help shed light to an era of filmmaking currently being rediscovered by critics and cinephiles alike. The Criterion Collection as always, speaks well to these interests, and delivers yet again another classic reissue of a film whose artistry and influence cannot be forgotten.