Salient. Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 26, No. 6. Tuesday, June 4, 1963
Italy's 'New Look' . . . — "L'Avventura" Stresses Conflict in Personal Relationships
Italy's 'New Look' . . .
"L'Avventura" Stresses Conflict in Personal Relationships
Prototype of the "new look" in Italian cinema—the films La Dolce Vita and Rocco complementing the breakthrough—Michelangelo Antonioni's L'Avventura arrives in New Zealand cinemas with more publicity backing than ever did Marienbad.
Recipient of a Special Jury Prize at the 1960 Cannes Festival where it was booed and jeered, it has had subsequent success on the Continent and in England and seems likely a fore-shadower of an Antonioni cult (in two recent polls for the "ten best of all times" sponsored by Sight and Sound and Film, L'Avventura ran second—topped by Kane—and fourth respectively). It is Antonioni's first international success.
In creating a new cinema image for Italy, Antonioni is diminishing ties with the past, especially with the traditions of neo-realism—a phase of development properly ended with de Sica's Umberto D (1952) but whose manifestations can still be seen four years later in IL Bidone.
Alongside Visconti and Fellini. Antonioni ranks in the foremost position of contemporary Italian directors. Like Fellini and Visconti, the director of L'Avventura had come through the neo-realistic chapter. His first documentary (1943) was produced at the time when Visconti was working on Ossessione, since when he has amassed his output to some ten films.
Some influence of Italian neo-realism is not difficult to discern in L'Avventura, as of course applies to all Italian productions. What is distinctive is Antonioni's rejection of its basic tenets in favour of a more personalised and humanistic thesis—such as Fellini may never achieve; if La Dolce Vita is in any way illustrative of his own new genre.
And with the breakthrough comes another popular vogue, that of the long film. Reacting against the crisp, condensed social analysis prevfiously adhered to (La Strada, Open City) a new conception is evolved. This is the lengthy, considerate tome—not necessarily overblown or distorted—in which each personal and social minutiae has a functional role and undergoes careful analysis. Viz: La Dolce Vita 170 mins., L'Avventura 145 mins., Rocco 174 mins.
"Neo-realism," says Pier Paolo Pasolini—one of Italy's greatest literary figures, "is the product of a cultural and democratic reaction to the standstill of the spirit during the Fascist period." Now we are witnessing a natural transition—in keeping with the cultural political and economic advancement—in much the same way as happened with the French "nouvelle vogue."
L'Avventura has been called a film "about sex." While this dis-cription allows for many interpretations—overt eroticism (Les Amants), repressed eroticism (Marienbad), Eros at play (Night Heaven Fell), Eros in relation to social dysfunction (La Dolce Vita)—it tells nothing about the film's character. L'Avventura is a story about a handful of people, an incident, an adventure in their lives. It is heavily formalised, with a beginning, a middle and an end no climactic key appearing at any one stage in the film.
While Antonioni would beg to differ, it may be said that the theme of L'Avventura is strongly oriented around interpersonal relationships. The outside world is of secondary importance, and concerns us only insofar as it acts as setting. Central to understanding the whole is the conflict—the "guilt, inadequacy and loneliness"—which emerges from and acts between the characters.
Thus we have the trappings of a film, extremely individual in tone. It discards the social backdrop as nominal and treats of a story not a theme. All this in contradistinction to the neo-realistic scholasticism of (i) society vs. individual, (ii) fatalism, and (ill) depression.
The treatment of the story has an underlying simplicity peculiarly well developed. Overall, there is an economy of sound and image: a close-up, a phrase conveys something of intrinsic value. The redundancies of prolonged sequences and cross-talk apparent in so many films of like nature are here nowhere in evidence.
L'Avventura is a beautifully constructed film. Event succeeds event in smooth order without any chronological disparity. Notice the very first sequence between Anna and her father. A definite frame of reference is established. We learn their relationship is strained not so much by means of dialogue and character expression, but more by dint of placement and movement. This is central to the Antonioni technique. Montage and images can relate a narrative without dialogue butting in. The film's closing sequence would be spoilt with additive of any kind.
Against the pictorially award winning background, the characters are, each and every one well-defined. At the most, we are interested in nine individuals. Nine differing personalities, each with his or her own separate achievements, desires, motivations, yet each in some way dependant upon the next for explanation and existence.
Monica Vitti as the girl Claudia, returns an admirable performance. Her conflict (fidelity toward girlfriend, love of the man) is resolved as the film progresses, each sequence reinforcing the preceeding one of her genuine desires.
Complementing the girl is Sandro, a man of latent ambition whose laissez-faire attitude with the girls and toward love does not ring false until the very end. He may be the stumbling-block of reality for Claudia and in this respect is the reciprocal of Fellini's Marcello (La Dolce Vita).
The "nine" represent the set. They are sociologically upper strata—diplomats, ladies of leisure and general ne'erdowells—with Claudia the sole character at variance. Her struggles are greatest, naturally, for her income bracket is lowest (continuation of the wealth-corruption, poverty-purity thesis). But whereas in La Dolce Vita the rich are contrasted with the poor continuously, in L'Avventura this does not apply. As I mentioned, Antonioni is interested In persons, a homogenous selection, not, as was Fellini for purposes of a cross-cultural analysis.
In fact, there is only one incident in the whole film which does make a startling comparison. Realisation should not be slow in coming: the tremendous pressure which the Italian aristocracy brings to bear, via the Church onto the film industry, does not make for liberal film production. In Italy, a unique form of censorship allows everyone above the rank of Ministerial In-Laws to "have" at films.
With Michelangelo Antonioni's L'Avventura then, a new look in Italian cinema. A "new" not to be equated with the vogue "nouvelle" as it does not represent a breakaway, rather, a continuation that has been wholly altered.—M. J. W.