The Criterion Collection presents classic films both new and old, often restored or containing a wealth of extra features. Although occasionally I run across a Criterion title that I've had the pleasure of seeeing before, more often than not, the collection has introduced me to an excellent film that I wouldn't likely have otherwise had the chance to enjoy with such a fine presentation. "L'Avventura" is certainly one of the Criterion releases that I have not yet seen and definitely, it is one of the films that I've liked the most.
Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni, the film mainly starts with Claudia (Monica Vitti) being offered an opportunity to go on a bit of a cruise with friend Anna and boyfriend Sandro (Gabrielle Ferzetti). The group have a relaxing cruise on the high seas, and suddenly decide to stop off at an island. During their stay there, Anna suddenly goes missing, with no explanation. They search the island and with the rocky terrain, it doesn't seem as if there's a place where she possibly could be. The group searches, but after a while, they give up the search as she simply can't be found. Sandro eventually re-connects with Claudia and the two become lovers and, after a while, life goes on. The dissapearance is never explained and the film really becomes more of a focus on the relationship between Sandro and Claudia, but how meaningful is their relationship, or are they simply two people in the moment? All of the characters attempt to genuinely connect with one another, but often choose the wrong way of communicating.
The film worked for me often not only because of the terrific performances, but because of cinematographer Aldo Scavarda's amazing black and white cinematography, which is a series of fascinating and often beautiful compositions. Yes, Antonioni's film is quite lengthy and there are moments throughout the film that really don't move it along, but these moments are probably to give it a more realistic feel and also, the director is focusing here on characters whose upper class lives often pass boringly as if every minute lasts five. Yet, I never found myself bored. Although the characters are not sympathetic, I wanted to know where the story was headed - Antonioni's slow, subtle way of going about telling the tale actually worked to pull me in further.
"L'Avventura" is a feature that is sometimes slow - but never boring. The actors are superb and Antonioni's direction is excellent. I really enjoyed the film quite a bit and I'm glad to see from the restoration demonstration that Criterion has digitally cleaned the film remarkably well.
VIDEO: Criterion has produced a very striking 1.77:1 anamorphic presentation for "L'Avventura". As will be discussed for the "restoration demonstration", there obviously has been some cleaning up for this edition - again, Criterion has used the MTI digital restoration system to remove dirt, debris and scratches. I believe Criterion has used this system for several past releases. According to the insert, this new digital transfer was created from a 35mm composite fine-grain master positive on a high-definition Spirit Datacine. Sharpness and detail vary; some scenes appear slightly on the soft side, but I thankfully never felt that images appeared hazy or blurry - the film retained at least good definition throughout.
Some light film grain was occasionally visible, but it remained very light and fine, certainly not something that I found myself concerned or distracted much by. A few very light hints of edge enhancement were noticed, but no pixelation. Print flaws were impressively few and far between. For a movie that's certainly up there in years, the film seemed in almost impossibly good condition. There were a few very minor speckles here and there as well as a few minor lines/scratches, but the great majority of the film looked remarkably fresh and as the "restoration" featurette on the second disc shows, there was a large amount of wear that has been removed. The brilliant black and white cinematography on the film is done justice here and although there are some very minor faults, Criterion's new presentation is wonderful.
SOUND: The sound was mastered from a 35mm optical soundtrack. Presented in Italian mono, the sound quality was as good as I would expect. In a case like this, the concern is certainly not how much activity or detail that the sound provides (although the mono soundtrack does have some nice ambient sounds), but the general quality itself. Although there were moments when the sound did become slightly thin, I thought the majority of the film sounded clean and clear with no instances of distortion or other problems.
MENUS:: Although Criterion releases many titles that don't really lend themselves to animated menus, they still often provide subtle and effective ones. For "L'Avventura" they haven't provided animated menus, but the beautiful film-themed images serving as backgrounds still provide an elegant look.
Commentary: This is a commentary from film historian Glen Youngblood, who was recorded for this commentary in 1989 for the Criterion laserdisc edition. Although the track starts off seemingly as a narration of what's going on in the picture, Youngblood then begins to provide a fascinating analysis of what the symbols and imagery really might stand for. In-between these observances, he provides a terrific amount of information about the production and some of the troubles that Antonioni faced while directing. A bit more an exploration of the story than production, the commentary still provided a very interesting perspective on the film.
Restoration Demonstration: One of the more enjoyable features that occasionally pop up on Criterion's DVD editions, this featurette is a fascinating look at the process of restoring "L'Avventura". It offers quite a few before/after comparisons from the previous, worn editions and the digitally restored edition that has been prepared for this DVD edition - the difference is absolutely remarkable.
Also: There is a wonderful 57 minute documentary on Antonioni which features quite a few interviews as well as a strong amount of information on the director (w/English subtitles). Almost a little more interesting for me is the next section, where there are three audio tracks featuring Jack Nicholson himself. The first two have him reading essays by Antonioni and the third is a fun and insightful discussion of what it was like for him to work with the director. Also included is the film's theatrical trailer and an essay in the booklet.
Final Thoughts: Two thoughts: if you have not seen "L'Avventura" and are interested, the $39.99 retail price is a bit much to recommend a purchase without seeing the film, but it's still certainly worth a rental if you've never seen it. For those who are already fans, Criterion's 2 DVD set provides wonderful audio/video quality and a handful of great extra features, making it well worth adding to your collection.