Too Cool for This Room

Ennui. Estrangement. Existentialism? L’Avventura.

The 1960 Italian movie is populated by figures who are unmoored in the modern world. They drift maybe searching for new anchorages or are just content to keep meandering until running aground.

An ideal movie to watch again during the last languor of summer. Which is when the story reveals itself.

Let’s establish: Anna (Lea Massari) is Sandro’s putative fiancée. Along with other affluent or proximity to affluence friends, they join a boating outing upon the Mediterranean Sea during the early 1960s. Among the revelers Anna’s best friend, Claudia (Monica Vitti).

Anna and Sandro (Gabriele Ferzetti) are a loveless pair sleepwalking through the motions of being a couple bound for matrimony. In a hint of foreboding before leaving to sail, Anna’s father prophesies that Sandro will never marry her.

Correct about the end, he failed seeing what course led there. Or else since it’s not a tragedy, he would’ve attempted saving his daughter. Futilely. In tragedies the principals cannot escape their fates. Anna walks towards hers knowingly.

The father harkens from another more regimented era. He sees clearly and speaks plainly. His daughter, her contemporaries have been shaped – or misshaped – by World War II carnage and the bomb that looms over them all.

The younger generation practice etiquette yet perform without convictions. To them the old strictures only go as far as show. Otherwise, they don’t matter.

These privileged scions reflexively act on impulses, urges, yearnings knowing their existence can be ended in a flash. Looking back on the 60s, it was a fine guiltless time to immerse in the comforts of the 20th century’s cornucopia of consumer wonder goods and luxuries. Particularly so when the menace of the bomb must’ve made deferring seem foolish.

Wouldn’t have behaving without regard of possible consequences have made sense then?

Throughout the movie Claudia gradually, reluctantly, succumbs in events which further diminish the vanished Anna. In the beginning whatever loyalty this cohort values, Claudia wishes to promote it. That desire makes the movie’s concluding sequence a two-fold denouement.

By forgiving Sandro of the same sort of trespass that involved her with the absent Anna, Claudia unalterably betrays her friend for a second time as well as herself.

Isn’t that a modern conundrum? Or part and parcel of mankind throughout time?

Michelangelo Antonioni directed L’Avventura as well as La Notte and L’Eclisse, a loose trilogy sharing alienation. Again, of going through the motions of, say, civility. Of putting on a show and nothing deeper. Of distance we regard as far from incisive feeling. But unlike their English cousins of the same era, they hide facile natures behind style.

More so than the British or even French film contributions relating to distanced upheaval, Italian entries armored their pawns in sharper attire. For the longest, it seemed the same grace which made that era’s Olivetti typewriters artworks also fashioned garments.

Clothing transitions in L’Avventura and subsequent Italian movies sharing its contemporaneous timeline also hewed to this stipulation – even casually togged the “beautiful figures” dressed to impressed. There are numerous occasions throughout all these titles, and others, when casual wardrobes must be shed because like it or not occasions demand more refined disguises appropriate for the deception.

How many overlooked instances does a character declare, “I must change”? He or she means clothes, but isn’t the inference attitude?

Yet as all adults know, changing clothes never taxes as much as changing attitudes.

Of Antonioni’s trio I enjoy L’Avventura the most. But the crushing intensity of La Notte draws me deeper. L’Eclisse is lifeless on the way to being deprived of a soul. Way too much constriction through modern life for me, thanks.

I first watched the above three titles throughout the 1970s as well as a host of other foreign produced movies too daring or difficult for American studio heads to envision emerging from domestic dream factories on WNET, Channel 13. It remains the New York Metropolitan Area’s premiere PBS station.

Filmed beginning in the immediate postwar until the mid-60s, those movies, most in black and white, are the reason today why I gladly support the Public Broadcasting System. In the Northeast and now in Las Vegas.

Without having been mesmerized by the content of those curated selections, it’s doubtful I ever might’ve later watched then afterwards read The Fortunes of War, Jeeves and Wooster, or Brideshead Revisited, or invested time in the ripped from recent headlines intelligence thriller COBRA, and the annually anticipated splendorous Vienna Philharmonic New Year’s Day concerts. I don’t know why but the ensemble’s summer orchestrations leave me cold.

There are a lot more three-dimensional characters and programs on PBS than the linear fare beamed us by America’s major broadcasters and streamers.

What ought to jar regarding L’Avventura is how easily, no, how quickly, Anna is brushed aside. There is a pro forma investigation regarding her disappearance, but she’s smoothly rendered into a shadow. With Anna out of sight/out of mind, the good life resumes apace for her fiancé and friends.

Easy to imagine the onscreen cold-bloodedness putting off most America audiences taking in L’Avventura when it premiered on our side of the Atlantic. Then as now much of our society remains too adolescent to comprehend the gelid nature exhibited in the movie’s milieu.

People. We make mistakes, unintentionally and otherwise. We’re selfish. Sometimes we’re even aware of it. What mitigates much of that is those judging us possess and exhibit the same human fallacies. Enduring them is connective reciprocity.

Watching the players in L’Avventura extend what earlier American audiences might’ve found barely palatable or excusable – though hardly tolerable – behavior during its initial premiere and certainly now will during our hyper discerning times illustrate shifts in the last six decades. The forgiveness extended then towards all of Anna’s “friends,” extended farthest by Claudia to Sandro, truly a weak man undeserving of any, a man who will never truly atone, will likely have successor Boomer generations watching this movie demanding war crimes tribunals when end credits roll.

The convulsions of the Boomer generation and that which sired us broadened our margins of acknowledgment, acceptance, and comprehension.

Especially that last.

Those are lessons we’ve failed passing down. Our inheritors haven’t been so challenged. It shows daily.