In Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’Avventura, a woman disappears on a rocky island. Her wealthy friends search for her until it begins to rain. They pace empty rooms and gaze into the middle-distance of the emotionally detached. They speak in non-sequiturs and nod off mid-conversation. They stare at the ceiling and count. They are bored out of their skulls, trying to pass the time. And I played along at home, fidgeting and waiting for the film’s 144 minutes to end. This is the double-bind of an Antonioni film: the characters are adrift, searching for heat and drama; so is the viewer. The effect is physical.

Antonioni developed a cinematic grammar of modern isolation: people alienated by their comfort, their architecture, and one another. It was a revelation sixty years ago; now it’s as familiar as air. “Our myths and conventions are old,” said Antonioni. “And everyone knows that they are indeed old and outmoded. Yet we respect them.” And when they no longer provide solace, where do we turn? “It is impossible to be happy simply because one is ceaselessly entertained,” wrote Roger Ebert. “L’Avventura becomes a place in our imagination—a melancholy moral desert. Why don’t we have movies like L’Avventura anymore? Because we don’t ask the same kinds of questions anymore. We have replaced the ‘purpose of life’ with the ‘choice of lifestyle.'”

Leave a Reply