DIRECTOR: Michelangelo Antonioni
This was one of my ex-girlfriend's favorite movies. Her favorite movies. There's so much I want to say about that. Somehow, I keep on rewatching it. It's not a commentary on her. It just keeps coming back for some reason. If I had to guess, the first time was for my ex-girlfriend, who was not an ex at the time. The second time is because I got the DVD cheap. The third time was because my wife wanted to see it. The most recent time was because I got it on Blu-ray as a gift. It's a very good movie. But this is more of a commentary to say that it is your favorite movie. Okay, you are completely allowed to love this film. There's plenty here to love. But isn't it a bit like Scorsese's recent list of best films? It's a bit...much to make it a favorite movie. Also, I'm probably going to drag my ex's name through the mud a bit after watching it with new eyes this time.
I'm still on my bender of writing. I'm behind schedule. This happens. I got distracted by a long-winded discussion about The Phantom of the Opera, and then about Star Wars, and then Indiana Jones. Be aware that if this blog becomes totally incoherent, I'm writing from a perspective of exhaustion and time-crunch.
For as many times as I've seen this movie at this point, I only ever remember the beginning. In my mind, this is a 72-minute movie about people standing on rocks looking for a friend of theirs and not really caring all that much. No, this is a two-hour-and-twenty minute movie where people go all around Italy looking for a friend and only sorta caring sometimes. The movie screams sexuality coupled with selfishness. Even before characters act on their bottled passions, there is something oddly sexual about the film that I can't put my finger on. Sure, the beginning of the movie starts with Anna and Sandro rudely fornicating while Claudia waits outside. But once Anna disappears, the movie feels like it should be about finding Anna. And it never really ignores the conceit that they are looking for this awful friend of theirs. But the movie doesn't let go of this sexual tension in the air that is wildly inappropriate. It relishes in the notion that people's erotic needs shouldn't even be an option in this scenario. While not grotesque or exploitative, the film keeps planting the seed (pun not intended) that this story needs to explode in a release of emotions (pun definitely not intended).
Out of all of the times that I watched this movie, this is probably the time I liked it the most. The same happened with multiple readings of Crime and Punishment. It went from only being okay to being pretty darned good. I still can't give my ex credit for being the best movie or someone's favorite movie, but I can see the appreciation for it. Part of it comes from a duality within me when watching the movie. I hope I can explain this clearly, so bear with me. There's a really weird performance style in the movie. As much as Anna is central to these people, especially Claudia, only Claudia seems to really care that she's missing. I know that Sandro, Anna's boyfriend, says that he cares. But most of the characters read as going through the motions of the story. One part of me believes that this is just a very Italian movie. We're not going to get to the indulgant melodrama that American cinema may have a reputation for. The other half comes from Roger Ebert's commentary on the film, that people are just bored because they are so blessed by wealth and privilege.
I think it might be both. These ideas seem paradoxical, but I think it is important to remember that this movie is the most Italian movie ever made AND that Antonioni is commenting on the aloofness of the aristocracy. One thing that is rarely stated is that Anna sucks. The movie, through indirect characterization, establishes this idea. Anna seduces Sandro, knowing that Claudia is watching. She jumps off the boat, bored with people and lets them know that they aren't entertaining enough. She fakes the shark attack, leaving this girl-who-cried-wolf element to her whole disappearance. But also, this is a potentially dead lady. Not only that, you call Anna your friend. I'd like to think that I would be torn up about a missing person that disappeared on my watch. These characters, however, don't seem all that put out by it. And it's that way about everything. The way that they treat Anna's disappearance seems to be in line with the way that they treat everything. One of the women is groped by someone wanting to start an affair. She says some clever words and he stands rejected. But there's no raising of voices or outrage to something that might be interpreted as sexual assault. I'ts the way that things like this are dealt with by the upper crust.
It's only Claudia who exhibits an air of normalcy. She never gets hysterical. I don't think that Antonioni would make a movie where Claudia gets hysterical. But for all of the personal slights she receives from Anna early in the film, she doesn't seem to come from the same class as the others on the boat. She recognizes the insanity that someone she knows is potentially dead. It's what makes her journey throughout the piece something compelling to watch. As much as Claudia is the moral good of the film, the film is about her choice to throw away her morals for that ever-shifting line. Antonioni creates this massive love story for Claudia and Sandro, a love doomed by its wrongness. Most everything Antonioni does in the film is to build this relationship to greater heights only to tear it down. But it isn't really a romance. It's attraction based on how forbidden it is. For a good chunk of the film, Claudia rejects Sandro, despite how she feels in the moment. She knows it's wrong. It's why, when she finally does submit to her feelings, it's such a cathartic moment. It's the temptation being indulged. Antonioni has the two characters constantly tell each other that they love each other, stressing the romance of the entire situation.
But there's a moment where the two get comfortable with each other. Nothing from the outside really bad happens. They keep getting false leads about Anna and they keep exploring the Italian countryside. But it is when the relationship becomes less forbidden and more acceptable that the two start falling apart. It's actually less and less likely that they are going to find Anna, yet Claudia primarily worries about Anna's return as something that may tear the relationship apart. It's almost like she's trying to infuse something sinful into something that's becoming healthy. The film ends with Sandro cheating on Claudia, not with Anna as the misdirect would allow you to believe, but with Gloria. Sandro is the one who cries while gettng caught, but that's also very telling of who they are as people.Sandro's infidelity with Gloria paints the picture of a man who lives for the forbidden. Even his relationship with Anna seems like a bit of a mismatch, especially when it comes to age. It's what makes it so tragic for Claudia because she realizes that all of this was about embracing the forbidden. But Claudia has to question her own approach to the relationship as well.
Claudia doesn't cry at the end. She's horrified by seeing the two of them together. Okay. But she always kind of figured that this was an ethereal relationship. They were using each other because it was wrong. Claudia doesn't weep because, in the back of her mind, that's something that always ran there as script. Sandro's tears are just because he has no excuse. He has no retort. Nothing can save him. He's almost crying the tears of a child knowing that there's nothing that he can to do to get out of trouble. All of this scans with the relationship with the ex, by the way. Of course, I'm going to paint myself as the good guy in this version (despite the fact that my life is gangbusters now and I probably dodged a bullet with that ex). But she was in it simply because it had a finale date: graduation. I was into the relationship hard and would have jumped through hoops for it. So when I think of this as my ex's favorite film, there's a weird parallel that I can't help but see. It's a story about people who use each other and I can see how it's her favorite movie.
It's really good though. I hate that I came to that conclusion. Sure, it's really long and the point gets hammered hard at times. I also kind of don't want to live in the world of L'Avventura. It's a world where people don't mind ripping each other apart for momentary happiness. I'm the same way about rom-coms. Adultery stories never seem romantic to me so much as they are just depressing. L'Avventura implies that everyone cheats. L'Avventura and Woody Allen would really get along. I'd like to think that we're more than selfish brats waiting to find an excuse to indulge the next temptation that comes across my path. But if the world of L'Avventura is only fiction, then I suppose I can enjoy it as fiction.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.