In 1960, L’Avventura was awarded the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival for its “remarkable contribution to the search for a new cinematic language.”  That language, according to Seymour Chatman, is a metonymic cinema, in which the landscapes are physical externalizations of a character’s inner emotions.  Objects in the landscape, Chatman states, “serve as metonymic signs of [the character’s] inner life.”  Thus, the barren, volcanic island which serves as the stage for the first part of the film represents the characters’ own inner barrenness.

Antonioni frames his characters such that they’re not looking at each other, or even in the same direction.  They are, in the words of numerous critics, alienated.  Even when they speak, they turn away from each other, or one character has her back to the other.  They speak to empty space, to jagged, black rock formations, to sea sprays.

When Matthew and I are angry with each other, I direct my words towards the spot just to his left or to the thinning spot on the carpet where the cats have ripped out the piling.  We look past each other, as if the weight of actually looking—seeing—each other would drag us both down to the floor.  We avoid touching, and turn our bodies going up and the down the stairs, lest our contact set off a spark the burns the whole house down.  The air, it seems, is colder.  But is the landscape a metonymic extension of myself or is it simply February, and we’ve set the thermostat to 64° because our last heating bill was nearly three hundred dollars?

He stands off to the side while I’m typing and looks at me, as if daring me to look back.  I don’t.

Have you eaten dinner?

No.

He leaves the room.

András Kovács argues that characterizing Antonioni’s mise-en-scène as metonymic is reductive.  “If Antonioni’s landscapes are ‘empty,’” he writes, “it is not because they express by their physical aspect the characters’ mental state.  It is because the characters cannot find their lives in there however beautiful they may appear…. They wander around in it not because they want to find something that is out there, but because they have lost their human contact with that world.”

In the final scene, Claudia approaches her lover Sandro, sitting on a bench, from behind.  Sandro has just betrayed her, and he weeps into his hands.  Her hand hesitates before she places it, tremulously, on his head.  Antonioni himself offers conflicting interpretations of her gesture:  “She will stay with him and forgive him,” and “What they finally arrive at is a mutual sense of pity.”  To Sandro’s right, a solid brick wall, grey and stubborn, featureless, crumbling.  To Claudia’s left, Mount Etna in deep focus, streaked with what looks like snow.  But they don’t look at each other.

Matthew and I will reconcile.  Our lives will resume their normal course.  But before that, we have to look:  Look at my face.  Look at this piece of me that represents the whole.

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