1960, 145 minutes
directed by Michelangelo Antonioni

L’Avventura is really Antonioni’s most important film. Some of his most famous images and scenes are in here, as well as some of his most shocking narrative devices—they’re not shocking like an instantaneous, loud, surprising cut in a teenage slasher-flick, but shocking more like the way a finger run slowly over the rim of fine glassware slowly sets the entire glass into reverberation. Monica Vitti, the beautiful actress who stars in all three of his trilogy films, though she plays slightly different characters in all three, is the singular constancy throughout the trilogy, imbuing the three films with the existential dissonance for which Antonioni became famous and from which this semester’s theme takes it title, “Identity & Fragility.”

The theme of identity and fragility was on display last night during the lecture, though only as a subtext. Last night, at the “Writing on Architecture” panel, there was an animated debate about the value of writing to architecture. In short, books and buildings. At one point or another, various assertions were made about the ascendancy of one over the other in terms of the capacity to affect the environment, or the way we live, or our understanding of architecture and architects, living or dead. All of the arguments were made, however, with the unstated, underlying assumption that the capacity to transcend time being the most desired result of either endeavor. If the point of architectural writing is primarily self-promotional, as Dean Stern argued on one end of the panel, or a discipline unto itself which may be a more lasting document of ideas than the buildings themselves, as Peter Eisenman argued on the other end of the panel, then it is our place in time which is the real issue; specifically, the identity of an architect or architecture in relation to his or her milieu and the history of architecture in general. Time was the giant elephant in the room. I should note that the panel was sandwiched in the middle by Kurt Forster, whose wit, verve, and eloquence rendered time null and void, sort of like being absorbed in a great movie or book or under the influence of the best sort of recreational drugs.

In L’Avventura, as it is in the films of Wong Kar-Wai or Sergei Eisenstein, or the architectures of Aldo Rossi, or last night’s panel discussion, the real subject is time. The movie moves ploddingly, sometimes almost disturbingly slow, and the camera lingers as the characters wander seemingly without purpose through the landscape. This, in essence, is the invention of Michelangelo Antonioni. It is the relationship between his framing and pacing of images through time which was so disturbingly unconventional at the time (and still is). As the movie progresses, you are thus made aware of the ideas of distance and proximity– the distance between people, the distance between a person and his/her environment, and the distance between an idea and its realization. It is why it is said that only in an Antonioni film is the architecture a protagonist. I would disagree, and say that the architecture in an Antonioni film is not a protagonist, but an antagonist—it makes you aware of the formal delineations between things and is constantly pushing and pulling on the beautiful, languid characters in ways that subjugate them and belittle them. The architecture, in more ways than one, makes the characters disappear, though we never lose our interest in the pretty things that move about the frame of the camera—they just seem pitiably trivial to the power of the place and the landscape.

originally written October 9, 2007


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One Response to “L’Avventura”

  1. Chungking Express | no ideas but in things Says:

    [...] violent, and full of alienated beautiful people, the kind that have occupied hipster films since Antonioni. Though infused with a distinctively Asian vibe, it nonetheless effuses a thoroughly international [...]

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