Michelangelo Antonioni’s “L’Avventura” is a film you have a lifelong relationship with. In his Great Movies review of the film, Roger Ebert wrote that it took him decades of watching and rewatching it to “realize how much clarity and passion Antonioni brought to the film’s silent cry of despair.”
This is why it’s so important to see the new 35mm restoration of “L’Avventura,” kicking off its bi-coastal run on July 12 at New York’s Film Forum and LA’s Cinefamily. If you’ve already seen the film, you will most likely see it again at some point, and if you’ve never seen it, you will probably see it several times in your lifetime once you do. And the chances to watch it or any movie on film are -- as we know -- increasingly few and far between.
The film was booed upon its premiere at Cannes in 1960. But then it won the festival’s Jury Prize, became an international box office success and was selected by Pauline Kael as the best film of the year. Over the course of a luxurious 143 minutes, the impossibly lovely Monica Vitti loses her best friend while on a boating day trip -- the woman seemingly disappears among the jutting rocks of a small island -- begins an affair with her missing friend’s boyfriend, and realizes how quickly one can become distracted and forget about important things.
The characters in the film are rich, bored and existentially hollow. “L’Avventura” suggests nothing will wake them from their emptiness, though Vitti’s character agonizes in vain over this bleak truth throughout the film’s episodic second act.
The film was Antonioni and Vitti’s first together, beginning a director-muse collaboration that would go on to include such thematically resonant entries as “La Notte,” “L’Eclisse” and “Red Desert.” Antonioni’s camera loves Vitti (every camera loves Vitti), but is careful to give the surrounding landscapes more depth and vitality than any of the living beings on screen. The Aeolian island of the film’s first sixty minutes is so hauntingly ageless -- so present -- it threatens to overshadow the rest of the picture.
I’ve now seen “L’Avventura” twice -- the second being this restoration -- and still find my stamina tested by its last hour. But apparently I’m in good company, in needing time to understand the film’s strange, ghostly journey. The anti-adventure where nothing and everything happens.
Now, thanks to these pristine prints by Janus Films, moviegoers can add a new chapter (filled with awe? perplexity? malaise? mesmerism?) to their experience of this classic masterwork.
This is the first domestic 35mm of “L’Avventura” in over a decade; the prints were struck from a restoration negative.