There’s something terrifying about getting caught in a crisis on vacation. While we are away from home we feel especially vulnerable – it doesn’t matter if we are fifty miles away or five thousand. We are out of our comfort zone, susceptible to anything and everything in our surroundings. There’s a mild anger at the moment s we are ruining, and a deep worry that we won’t be able to get to the next moment.
It’s a scary situation. And yet, from these sorts of scary situations, some beautiful things can be born.
L’AVVENTURA begins simply enough. Two girlfriends named Claudia and Anna are part of a group taking a boat trip from Rome to the nearby Pons Fabricius. Anna’s and Claudia have a curious relationship; one that is prone to true intimacy and passive aggression. The two think nothing of sharing clothes and confessing secrets, but can just as easily become chilly with each-other when a handsome man is about. Much of it seems to stem from Anna and her impulsiveness – such as when she cannot wait to swim, and dives off their boat mid-sail.
Perhaps it’s her impulsiveness that causes her to eventually get separated from the group. Last seen talking to her boyfriend, Sandro, about their relationship, Anna suddenly goes missing. The group makes an exhaustive search of the small island, but to no avail.
As their search continues into the surrounding area, chasing down every lead no matter how remote, it soon becomes clear that it’s Claudia that has become the object of Sandro’s affection. What to make of this illicit affair? And what could have become of Anna?
It seems strange to say this in a movie that involves more than one scene of unabashed leering, but L’AVVENTURA is a freakishly sensual film. The film likes to linger. It lingers in close and watches the way two people touch one-another, and it lingers from a distance while soaking up the pure elegance of the way an actress like Gabriele Ferzetti walks into a room.
Sensuality in a film like L’AVVENTURA takes patience. It’s about listening, and consideration. It’s about the intimacy that comes with walking a little slower and talking a little lower. When we watch a connection spark between two of our main characters, we first see it more in their body language than in what they say and do to one other. There are single shots in this movie that speak volumes – glances that are ferociously charged, gestures that will break your heart.
All of this stands in stark contrast to a moment in the film when an aspiring actress arrives in a small town and causes a fervour amongst the men. As they gather to gawk, we see the difference – and perhaps the difference between this film and others of its ilk.
Any old film can send a beautiful person into a scene wearing something eye-catching and let the sexuality scramble all circuits. There’s no trick to that, just like there’s no trick to making a lot of money of all you want to do is make a lot of money. To capture someone with sensual filmmaking though – as L’AVVENTURA does – takes a deft approach. It takes confidence, subtlety, vulnerability, and intimacy.
It’s the difference between having two buttons on a blouse undone, and three buttons undone.
It’s difficult to latch on to a film that hangs so squarely on both a relationship that feels so much like a deception, and then watch that relationship itself get twisted so violently. It’s not about assigning blame (since there’s enough to go around), or about coping with stress (since there’s no right answer to that conundrum).
What I believe it comes down to is something we see in the late-going.
When Sandro happens upon an incomplete ink rendering of the piazza architecture, he deliberately tips the bottle of ink over and ruins it. When confronted, he claims it was an accident. We know better though. We saw his hesitation, and how easily his action could have been avoided. This was no accident.
So why do I bring this up?
I believe the moment is emblematic both of this film, and of so many people’s lives in the way that sometimes we just feel an urge to destroy something beautiful. Call it what you want: jealousy, apathy, boredom, anger. We can do it to a piece of art, or a job, or a relationship.
If we’re lucky, something better comes out of the destruction. That’s the hope anyway, right? We do not simply tear down to tear down. No, we hope that what will come next will be a final copy to the rough draft we have just totalled…or a deeper connection to the pairing we have just severed. Perhaps that’s what allows Claudia and Sandro to stay so close while Anna is still presumed missing. Perhaps that’s why Sandro even forsakes Claudia for another.
We need to see disappointment, disagreement, and destruction as a chance to begin something better. It’s the best remedy for the situation, really…for all involved.
While we’re at it, we also need to be a bit less dickish about it when it’s us kicking over someone else’s sandcastle.
Much like the daytrippers scouring that island for Anna, I feel as though I have spent a long time seeking out L’AVVENTURA. In the days of video stores, I rented it and returned it unwatched. I recorded it on my PVR and had it get mysteriously deleted. I even had a ticket to see it projected on the big screen and had life just get in the way. Perhaps something inside of me didn’t really want to see it. Conversely, perhaps the gods of cinema knew I wasn’t ready to see it.
Perhaps that’s why I take an extra bit of comfort from that final image. It’s a compassionate gesture, a show of clemency. It’s a reminder that film will forgive us our trespasses. It will permit us dissension and disownership, and still wait patiently for us to return to it asking forgiveness. It doesn’t care how little we understood it before, or how boring we professed it to be. It just happily repeats its lessons and smiles when we open ourselves up enough to learn them.
L’AVVENTURA is about understanding what happens when we accept what is right in front of us. It can be the shame we try to bury in leering too long, the reality of what we feel at a moment we shouldn’t, or even a changing perspective on something we thought we didn’t get. All of it comes down to introspection; all of it comes doesn’t to being honest with ourselves.
It’s that honesty that lets us understand the reality of the situation. It’s that honesty, that allows us to forgive another, forgive a piece of art, or even forgive ourselves.
I usually post Blind Spot entries on the final Tuesday of every month. If you are participating, drop me an email (ryanatthematineedotca) when your post is up and I’ll make sure to link to your entry.
Here’s the round-up for June so far…
Members-at-Large, Filmspotting watched BODY DOUBLE
Erin watched HIROSHIMA MON AMOUR
Coog watched DAZED AND CONFUSED
Dell watched THE OUTLAW JOSIE WALES
Sofia watched…well…several movies
Andy watched THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP
Jay Cluitt watched A CLOCKWORK ORANGE
Brittani Burnham watched THE FRENCH CONNECTION
Sean Kelly watched THE MUMMY (1932)
Kevin watched TOKYO STORY and SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN