In L’Avventura, the question “Why?” is asked by most of the main characters, usually in a fit of frustration. In all cases, there is no answer forthcoming. Still, the question remains and repeating the question in a mocking tone is the only response the character being asked can muster up. It’s the only answer that makes any sense.
This is the kind of movie where characters walk around and talk to each other about life, love, and pain. The conversations the characters have with each other on these topics are honest, and the movie’s funny in the way it never misses an opportunity to cut one character down by using another to contradict them. The characters lead listless lives (triple alliteration word score!) drifting from location to location with few worries and, seemingly, fewer responsibilities. It’s appropriate, then, that the movie opens with its characters on a boat trip. They’re not going anywhere in particular, and they’re not really having any fun. When they arrive at a remote island, one of their party, a disillusioned woman named Anna, disappears. Her boyfriend, Sandro, and her best friend, Claudia, obsessively search for her, but there’s no trace. A few boats may have passed by during their search, and it’s hinted that she was abducted by smugglers or maybe she even left of her own volition on one of these boats.
It doesn’t matter because she’s not as important as the effect her disappearance has on Claudia and Sandro. After they’ve searched for a few days, Sandro begins putting the moves on Claudia. She’s resistant to his advances at first, but eventually gives in and they begin an ill-fated affair. The ghost of Anna remains between them and Claudia, who was once the most ardent advocate of searching for Anna, now fears that her friend will show up and take Sandro away from her. Her fears aren’t unwarranted. Sandro is clearly distracted, but it’s not exactly Anna that occupies his thoughts as the movie demonstrates in its closing sequence. He’s bored, a man who had dreams of being a poor genius, but ended up being rich and unappreciated for whatever skills he thought he had.
All the characters are like this, people inhabiting roles that don’t seem to suit them too well. A husband constantly berates his wife for being silly and frivolous, but when she flaunts an affair with a young painter (the kind of guy who’s painting, it seems, just to see naked women) he isn’t too much disturbed. The people at the center of the movie go from hotel to hotel so much, I realized late in the film that I had no idea where any of them lived or what, exactly, it was that most of them did to earn all this money. They all seem miserable and annoyed at everything around them.
Movies about the ennui of rich people are often uninteresting to me, being the solidly middle-class bloke that I am. But this one is more interesting than most; it cuts through the wealth and the privilege and finds the heartache inherent in a life of coasting from task to task, from one lover to the next. When Claudia says that her mother was “sensible” and is asked what that means, she replies, “It means she had no money.” She’s joking, but there’s a truth behind the way she says it, a yearning for some kind of stability. When later, in yet another hotel room, she lies down on her clothes, still stuffed into her open suitcase, it’s as if the suitcase is the only home she’s ever had. At the end of the movie, Sandro is weeping and Claudia puts her hand on him to comfort him. As she does, the score swells in contradictory, ominous tones, seeming to say that whatever joy the two find in one another will be short lived.
It’s well acted, well observed, and well written, though it’s a bit too long in the beginning. The search for Anna is intriguing at first, as mystery always is, but it occupies three or four scenes too many, especially when it’s clear the whole time that the movie has other things on its mind. Still, it’s always interesting and always honest. I liked the way the movie sets the investigation aside to show how the characters fill the holes she’s left behind and how, even with a newfound purpose in finding Anna, Sandro and Claudia are so easily distracted from this purpose. They don’t really seem to know why it’s so important to find her. But there’s that question again: Why?