My February Blind Spot is this 1960 Italian film by Michaelangelo Antonioni, which stars Monica Vitti, Gabriele Ferzetti and Lea Massari. The plot concerns the mysterious disappearance of a woman named Anna (Massari) during a boating trip in the Mediterranean. We don’t see the incident, so like the other characters present on the trip we wonder what has happened to her – has she fallen off the rocks, or has she been pushed by someone? Maybe her lover Sandro (Ferzetti) – who has seemingly grown tired of her and has been paying her less attention than she is used to – knows the truth; his initial reaction is frantic, but is that just for the benefit of the search party that arrives, which includes members of the local police as well as Anna’s father?
Very soon Sandro and Anna’s friend Claudia (Vitti) are an uneasy item. Claudia is uncomfortable with this, partly because she cannot fully trust Sandro, partly because Anna is/was her friend and partly because her own identity is threatened; is she just a surrogate, a replacement for the missing woman? Is she about to enter into a relationship with a murderer? Are her feelings for him genuine, and vice versa? These questions are present throughout the rest of the film, during which it becomes apparent that Anna may still be alive, so there is a degree of tension in the remainder of the story. That said, after Antonioni moves on from the island much of the action – though I use the term lightly, as this is a very slow, moody piece – takes place within upper-class Italian society, where many of the characters seem distracted or utterly weighed down by the sheer boredom that has enveloped their lives; because of their lives you begin to see the appeal of a wild goose chase, or the appeal of an affair that both parties seem to know is doomed from the off.
The film is shot beautifully by Aldo Scavara, and Antonioni clearly carefully managed the position of his actors during blocking rehearsals, as the frames here are meticulously arranged: figures are spaced evenly across the foreground and the background in the many medium and close shots, with distant buildings or incidental people or elements of the landscape resting between them and to their side (the mountain that sits in-between Sandro and Claudia in the picture above isn’t there by chance, and it suggests an insurmountable problem that exists between them, i.e. Anna; the final shot of the two on a bench shows Mt Etna in the background, indicating that nothing is truly resolved). There’s a flatness to some of the lighting that was in vogue in Europe at the time – see also Bresson’s Pickpocket – but the images in L’Avventura are striking nevertheless and the performances are very good. Vitti is the standout, and Antonioni knew he had discovered a star, casting her in his movies throughout the 1960s until their relationship became strained. (****½)