A COSMOS DEVOID OF ABSOLUTES

”Antonioni’s breakthrough masterpiece, L’Avventura, paints an austere picture of late modernity. If Stanley Cavell is correct to say that the cinematic apparatus delineates a world that transcends beyond the framed canvas of the traditional painted image (that is, we wonder what goes on beyond what we can see), Antonioni, at least superficially, does well to affirm that theory. In what seemingly begins as a mystery in search of a missing girl, Antonioni shifts his narrative in Rivette fashion by reframing his camera’s interest on a tale of troubled love when the woman’s fiancé matches up with her best friend; but yet all the while, Anna, the missing girl, never strays far from the spectator’s mind, and haunts the film’s central couple as a lingering burden of moral responsibility.”

Monica Vitti

Monica Vitti

The final scene of Michelangelo Antonioni’s ”L’Avventura” is a key moment in modern film. Claudia discovers that her new love, Sandro, has immediately been unfaithful. She searches and eventually  eventually finds him as she moves through the great deserted lounges of a luxurious  hotel in the early morning hours. There is a kinetic echo here, a reminder of the previous search for Anna, Sandro’s previous lover whom they searched for together on the island, only this search is for the lover of both girls and this search is successful.

The only sound is Claudia’s footsteps. Indeed, from this point to the end neither Caludia nor Sandro speaks a word. She is running way from us toward the far end of large room when she turns, and, on a sofa, discovers something that we cannot see. Instantly we cut to a shot over her shoulder, looking down on Sandro and a girl on that sofa. The swift change of view is like a sharp catastrophic chord. To see Claudia from a distance, a small figure in the universe, and then to be plunged instantly into the shock at the center of her universe is pure film art.

L'Avventura

L'Avventura

Dazedly, she walks out into an open square, railed, which overlooks a view. It is not yet morning as the light seems suspended, procrastinating its appearance. Soon Sandro appears, but he does not go to her. He sinks into a bench nearby, facing away from her. He has come out to accept whatever she has for him, to make himself present, his presence the only apology he can offer. We see his face, tears running down his cheeks; the truth, the terrible truth is that the tears are real. He is sorry. We also know that he is helpless and he can make no promises about different futures. We feel this because Claudia feels it. Her sobbing stops. She walks to him and stands behind him. In close-up her face looks down on him. Her tears have stopped. The future has begun, whatever it is to be.

Thus Antonioni tells us through images that in a cosmos devoid of absolutes the only thing that human beings have is themselves, faults and all; the possibility of love depends on our not making impossible demands on each other. This is the revolution in relations. Claudia takes Sandro for what he is, not what he ought to be some some synthetic standard, knowing that he sees himself clearly, knowing that she herself is the woman who so quickly replaced Anna. This is a moment of figurative marriage between two people who can ache for perfection without insisting on it and who have the courage to embrace life as an imperfect undertaking.

Gabriele Ferzetti, as Sandro. L'Avventura

Gabriele Ferzetti, as Sandro. L'Avventura

The society Antonioni has chosen consists of upper middle class and aristocratic people, luxurious and discontented. He contrasts them with others; an old shepherd who clings to the small rocky island, a pair of Sicilian servants on the trai, a sourly married druggist and his new wife, but it is the upper class society that is his medium. He knows, as Anton Chekhvov did, that it lives closer to the border of moral changes that eventually affect a whole culture.

We can see now that by examining love in this society, Antonioni has examined everything. He has understood that all the secrets are in us. Our desires, our dreads, our gods, are entailed in the words, ”I love you”. Essentially the film asks how we can still say those words, how they can still be true for a world so profoundly changed since the world that invented love.

To ask those questions was to face the austerity of the answers. For this important task, Antonioni had the requisite gifts and courage. Yet, though this is far from a film of easy uplift, the very asking of those questions is, fundamentally, an act of affirmation. Gravely yet reliantly, Claudia and Sandro affirm a truth today; the truth that life, without illusions, can be lived.

”Antonioni humanizes his characters in a particularly grim fashion. Sandro and Caudia both long for something pure and authentic, but find themselves lost in a superficial, bourgeois reality that ultimately denies them a moral compass; where no longer can their identity be satisfied by traditional morals, and they are relegated to an existential malaise. Antonioni underscored this idea at the Cannes premiere when he famously  declared to the world that “Eros is sick.” In his film, individuals struggle to make sense of themselves, searching for meaning and love in a world that has changed and continues to change before their eyes. Yet, Antonioni’s mastery lies in his ability to bring out the visual manifestation of their angst through his revolutionary technique rather than through traditional literary narrative mechanics. Philosopher and film scholar Gilles Deleuze writes, “It is noticeable that Antonioni’s objective images, which impersonally follow a becoming, that is, a development of consequences in a story, none the less are subject to rapid breaks, interpolations and ‘infinitesimal injections of a-temporality’.”

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