Thursday, April 28, 2011


When you do not believe in anything, how empty is your life? A story stunningly portraying the decay of Western civilization, L'avventura (literally The Adventure) goes where films as a rule don't go: a sincere attempt to comprehend reality. The film stops where Sandro stops: wanting sympathy, in despair, and himself not knowing where is the response. And, outside the pales of forgiving or forgetting, having crossed the sense of culpability in loving a forbidden, does Claudia know anymore?

Like leaves without wills blown at wind's whim, men and women flow about: what they leave behind is facades, ruins and church bells. What they desired is an answer to who they are: but they forgot to seek it in the other; they forgot to ask who the other is. Obsessed with the quest for themselves, every human comes crafted for them: Anna and Sandro have merely utilised each other in this lonely and selfish quest, and none has ever really thought about the other. None has known how horizons can be expanded; tragically, Anna's mysterious vanishing will only bring to the fore the inability to cope with themselves as they are. Sandro does find himself, would know what he is: a man unable to love. He will not need to look in Claudia's eyes for that judgment; he will need to look at the sky, or he will need to look at the buildings he never built. He is but the man who watches, envies, takes malicious pleasure in destroying the beauty he seeks, and tries to leave furtively; he is but the pitiable human who are born for greatness but are lost for ever in trying to deconstruct beauty. And the woman, Claudia?

Among the few women's films, l'Avventura is one. Monica Vitti (playing Claudia) neither is pretty nor knows very well to act, but the way Antonioni has used her is remarkable: she is not exactly wooden either, and her beauty is the kind that you will believe in one day and not the next day. Which is why, the constant focus on her face gives the film a double edge: a sympathy that she is ruining her life by falling into that love, but that she could not do anything otherwise. She is the one who still believes, who has that courage; and she has the horrible destiny of being undeceived: of how the others don't, and of how they can merely fit you in the scheme of things. Her belief, whether in Anna's being alive or whether in love and happiness, is never very well founded, yet never seems crazy, and seems a better thing to have than coldness which would be called realist by some.

It is a wonder to me how could a film be made so well demonstrating the decay at the heart of the West, and yet not take a preachy or a flippant tone. In a way, Fellini does the same thing with 81/2 but he adds in a lot more absurdity, which makes the effort that much less touching. Rohmer does the same thing in all his films, but Rohmer is more like Zola: he is empty of ideas. He only points the microscope at the bacteria, but has no ideas about the bacteria's place in universe. In addition, using stilted dialogues and contrived situations, Rohmer can often be preachy and indulging in vanity. But, here, we have a storyteller who knows the phenomenon and knows the evolution, who knows the germ and who knows the fruit: and one who is in love with stories and humanity, and thus with himself.

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