From Hitchcock to Michelangelo Antonioni to Asghar Farhadi, similar plots work in different ways

Posted on May 21, 2018


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A great film essay can really change the way you look at a movie, and I experienced this recently when I read Geoffrey Nowell-Smith’s (editor of The Oxford History of World Cinema; a co-editor of The British Film Institute, the Government and Film Culture, 1933– 2000) thoughts on Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’Avventura (1960). The film is about a woman, named Anna, who disappears when a group sets out on a cruise off the coast of Sicily. Anna’s friends search for her, but what appears to be a mystery takes a turn into a new love story, and we never find out what happened to the missing woman. (According to Wikipedia, Antonioni shot a scene showing Anna’s body being recovered from the sea, but it did not make it into the film owing to “timing reasons.”)

If you’ve seen Antonioni’s films, you know they are modernist works. Following L’Avventura’s premiere at the 1960 Cannes Film Festival, this is how he explained the film’s pulse-pounding title, which translates to The Adventure. “Every day, every emotional encounter gives rise to a new adventure. For even though we know that the ancient codes of morality are decrepit and no longer tenable, we persist, with a [pathetic] sense of perversity… in remaining loyal to them. Thus moral man, who has no fear of the scientific unknown, is today afraid of the moral unknown. Starting out from this point of fear and frustration, his adventure can only end in a stalemate.” Hence the unsolved “crime,” which brings me to Hitchcock. Apart from the premise (Hitchcock, too, made a movie about a missing woman, titled The Lady Vanishes), there’s nothing “Hitchcockian” about L’Avventura. Right?

But here’s a brilliant passage from Geoffrey Nowell-Smith’s essay on L’Avventura for the Criterion Collection’s DVD edition. “[The woman’s] absence continues to haunt the narrative, right until the very end. This absence – which is also a presence – is a key to the film. It inevitably brings to mind Hitchcock, who plays with a similar motif in Rebecca (1940) and Vertigo (1958), and also dispatches his heroine early in a film exactly contemporary with L’avventuraPsycho. (Antonioni would later develop another Hitchcock theme, that of the wrong man, in The Passenger in 1975.)” Essentially, then, L’Avventura is a “Hitchcock movie” without the suspense and tension, and without a resolution. Nowell-Smith said as much: “[Unlike in a Hitchcock film, L’avventura is] brought to life more by a surrounding uncertainty than by careful preparation and accelerating rhythms.”

Continued at the link above.

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