Every ten years since 1952, the world-renowned film magazine Sight & Sound has polled a wide international selection of film critics and directors on what they consider to be the ten greatest works of cinema ever made, and then compiled the results. The top fifty movies in the 2012 critics’ list, unveiled August 1, include twenty-five Criterion titles. In this series, we highlight those classic films.
With one moodily beautiful composition after another, Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’avventura—about the disappearance of a young woman (Lea Massari) during a cruise off the coast of Sicily, and the conflicted love affair that develops between her lover (Gabriele Ferzetti) and best friend (Monica Vitti) as they search for her—can be counted among cinema’s most mysteriously affecting works of art. It must also be included, alongside such luminous works as Jean Renoir’s The Rules of the Game and Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Gertrud, in any list of masterpieces misunderstood when they premiered; at its first showing, at Cannes in May 1960, L’avventura was booed and catcalled. In this short clip from Gianfranco Mingozzi’s hour-long 1966 documentary Antonioni: Documents and Testimonials (available on our release of the film), you can hear about that disastrous screening from someone who was there: Vitti herself. But she also reminisces about the more hopeful day after, when critics were already starting to rally around the film.
Now, watch the film’s leading actress in action. Rarely has a camera adored its subject as Antonioni’s does Vitti in L’avventura. Like the film itself, she is a blank slate but with a subtle expressivity that is horizonless. In this scene, Vitti’s character, Claudia, still distraught over her friend’s disappearance the day before, receives an unwanted (or is it?) sexual advance—and get a gander at the brilliantly queasy shots of Vitti and company taken from the point of view of a swaying boat.