10 May 2011

My Adventure With L'Avventura or How I Went From Disliking to Loving a Film in a Few Short Years

There I am as a little kid. About nine-years-old actually. I've got my baseball glove and a bat and am heading over to a field not far from my house to play ball with some friends. I've got a wad of chewing gum in my mouth that I'm working on methodically. Not sure what I'm thinking but as I'm not even ten yet so it's probably not about girls. Baseball would be a good guess.

I know, you can't see me. This vision exists in my imagination. I wish I could go back and visit this much younger me. If I could somehow do with it creeping the little guy out, that is. I'd have a lot to say to him/me. Inspirational. Comforting. Informational. Plenty of advice. But I've got to let me grow up on my own.

I've come along way since then. I still love baseball but eschew gum. I still don't think of girls except the two I fathered and the grown up variety, particularly the one I'm married to. Same DNA. Same blonde hair. Considerably older and a tad wiser. My tastes in movies are quite a bit different too.

Now I see another me. Not so many years ago. He's watching Antonioni's L'Avventura (1960). The thing is, he ain't digging it. What's with this guy? In fact he goes over to IMDb and rates it a three on their 1-10 scale. What's with this guy? If I could go back and visit this slightest younger me I'd have one thing to say to him: what the hell's with you? I'm just a little older than that chap and not a whole lot different but evidently my taste in films has changed.

Suffice to say I watched L'Avventura today and loved it. And I'm frankly mystified about what I missed the first time (seemingly the whole thing).

This is actually not unusual. Other films I didn't like the first time I saw them include The Searchers (1956), and The Shop Around the Corner (1940), if you can believe it. Now I revere them.

People change.

Thank God.

Sometimes public opinion not only changes but does so quite rapidly and L'Avventura is a case in point. Audiences and critics howled with derision when it opened (at least I didn't howl, I just yawned then gave it a measly three). But before you could say Michelangelo Antonioni the howls turned to hosannahs. Go figure.

So the point here is that people, in general and individuals, often see the same thing differently the second time they look. In fact, one of the joys of watching a beloved film  multiple times is finding something different to appreciate about it.

Flexibility, seeing things from a different angle, hell even flat out changing your mind are strengths in a human being (unless you're running for public office in which case you are never ever supposed to alter your stance on anything). Not seeing anything new in a person, place or work of art is just another term for being brain dead.

L'Avventura is a movie that on the surface doesn't go anywhere or resolve anything. A group of friends sets sail on a four-day pleasure cruise. Central to the story at the outset is a woman traveling with her lover, who may well be her future husband, and her dearest friend. The first stop is an island at which the woman promptly disappears.

For much of the rest of the film the lover and friend look for the lost woman, as do others. But the search and the resolution of it -- or lack thereof -- is not the story. It is what we discover about them, and their class of self-satisfied, vacuous hedonists that is most compelling. They are not the most sympathetic cast of characters you'll ever meet but they make for interesting viewing. Particularly the delicious sexy Monica Vitti who co-stars along with Gabrielle Ferzetti as the searchers who find love in each other's arms. Yes, that's right. In looking for this person so important to them both, they fall for each other. And it's not like this takes place over time, they're at each other with a day of the woman's disappearance.

L'Avventura is also a visually magnificent film. Shot in glorious black and white, the scenes on the island, particularly of a coming storm, are striking. I found L'Avventura a visual delight from start to finish, in fact the very finish of the film is a particularly beautiful shot. As with all great films, the manner in which this story is told is what makes it such a compelling viewing experience.

Why is that we enjoy some books, music or films in one point in our life and not another? Certainly maturity plays a significant role in changing tastes. But I am but a few years older today than when I previously saw L'Avventura. Yet I haven't gone from thinking it okay to liking it, I went from disliking L'Avventura to loving it.

Besides our sensibilities we bring whatever frame of mind we're in to a viewing experience. Maybe the long session of meditation prior to today's vieiwing allowed me to more clearly focus on the story. Perhaps when I saw it before I was in a foul and hyper mood. Certain films we are just not ready for. Maybe some of what I've read and watched and ways in which I've thought of and seen the world have led me to a emotional state ripe for enjoying L'Avventura. Not every such question can be answered for certain, but they are always worth exploring.

Sometimes I have an instinct about giving a film a second chance. I would urge you to re-consider films you didn't like before if you've any reason to believe your experience will be different.

Now I'm seeing again, that nine-year-old version of myself. I wish I could say something to him. I know one thing I'd tell this striking handsome lad: "son, you might want to wait a few years before watching an Italian film called L'Avventura." I doubt he'd need much convincing.

1 comment:

Ram said...

Now that I've read your post, I want to see it, but unfortunately a Region 4 (Australia) DVD of L'Avventura is hard to come by. But I watched "La Notte" - the second in the trilogy and loved every minute of it.

I did not 'get' Blow-Up so I started watching "La Notte" with a slight apprehension, but I was happy to be proven wrong. A minimalist style, but a great watch. I'm not sure if you have already written about it, but will look forward to your opinion about it.