In Michelangelo Antonioni’s groundbreaking and controversial arthouse milestone, the mystery of a woman’s disappearance from a Mediterranean island is left unresolved.

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“There is about it the unmistakable exhilaration of watching a major artist reaching the height of his powers, and falling upon the subject which releases and focuses his creative insights.”
Penelope Houston, Cinema: A Critical Dictionary, 1980

The Cannes Film Festival premiere of L’avventura in 1960 met with catcalls from audiences frustrated with the film’s inconclusiveness and the slowness of its pacing. Like Alfred Hitchcock in the same year’s Psycho, Michelangelo Antonioni upturned expectation by getting rid of his film’s ostensible protagonist early on. Unlike Hitchcock, however, Antonioni provided no explanation for this sudden disappearance of his female star, hinting only at the alienation and ennui that the film depicts as a characteristic of contemporary bourgeois society as a potential cause.

No less radical than this modernistic ambiguity was the Italian master’s controlled use of camera movement and visual composition to dramatise the emotional space between people. The film made a star of Monica Vitti, who plays Claudia, the missing woman’s friend.

Antonioni’s loosely connected ‘alienation trilogy’ continued with La notte (1962) and L’eclisse (1963), the latter again featuring Monica Vitti.

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