by Evert Cilliers aka Adam Ash
The first time they saw Antonioni's L'Avventura, the cineastes at Cannes were as upset as a welter of wildebeests thrown down a well.
Maybe it was just too new for them. Or too great. Or so different from the products of the Hollywood crap factory as to seem inexplicable.
It may have been because Antonioni introduced a different sense of time into the movies. Ever since Griffith, film language had been of the “move-along” sort: next, next, next. The cut was there to zip time forward. Antonioni slowed movie time down to living time … now … now … now. He made the moment momentous; portentous. We get to stare at faces and things. The nows follow one another at a measured human rhythm; conversations happen at human speed. Antonioni exposed the falseness of movie time and graced film with a more authentically human pace and rhythm. He may be said to have brought the languid expansiveness of the novel to the screen (at 145 minutes, L'Avventura is a long movie). There's a certain respect for what's on view. We get a chance to take in people's faces.
And what a face we have in Monica Vitti. I don't think L'Avventura would've been half the masterpiece it is without Monica Vitti's face. Some directors — Antonioni, Bergman, Godard — parade their female stars as objects of loving regard. Their actresses are, in fact, their lovers, and they make images of them worthy of their love. If you love a woman, your camera will romance her, and express your lust for her. And when you have a face like Monica Vitti, there is an arresting loveliness that makes for many images of almost painful ecstasy.
Antonioni also treated space differently. All his people were judiciously and precisely placed in space, with a deep focus leaving not a iota of object or place out of focus. The background is foreground and vice versa. The entire frame is to be paid attention to, whether an actor is in closeup or in long shot. Antonioni's camera either burrows in, or stands way back, and gathers the whole view to be viewed in its ambit. A democratic eye.