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L'avventura: The Criterion Collection

Michelangelo Antonioni's L'avventura was released in 1960, at the height of an onslaught of heavily symbolic European imports. But L'avventura was different. The first of the truly difficult European films, it was not universally accepted. L'avventura was booed during its premiere screening at the Cannes Film Festival. Elsewhere, the film roused passionate debate or adulation. It's plain to see why. All of Antonioni's films explore the difficulties of relationships, asking if they can survive modern life. L'avventura is the quintessential work in his canon. In it, a socialite (Lea Massari) goes on a yachting cruise with her boyfriend (Gabriele Ferzetti) and some wealthy friends and disappears. Two people — her fiancé and her best friend (Monica Vitti) — commence looking for the young woman, but instead of completely dedicating themselves to the search, they have an affair. The woman is never found, and the budding romance ends in ambivalent stasis. Antonioni emphasizes photography as a means of propelling narrative forward, and he likes to tell stories novelistically, with an emphasis on character revealed through observation. Criterion's two-disc release of L'avventura on DVD restores aspects of their Laserdisc release and offers additional supplements, while also removing other things. Disc One features the restored widescreen transfer (in what the box says is anamorphic 1.77:1; the original film was released at 1.85:1). Criterion's literature notes that this new digital transfer was made from a 35mm composite fine-grain master positive on a high-definition Spirit Datacine, with help from the MTI Digital Restoration System to remove thousands of scratches and other damage marks. Though the film looks good, with better contrast in the black-and-white photography of Aldo Scavarda, there are still some long scratches that have eluded the magic of MTI. There also are times when bits of what look like dust cling to the edge of the frame, moments that hark back to the days of dusty 16mm projectors in a grade-school cafeteria. But perhaps this is to quibble. The monaural audio also has been mastered from a 35mm optical soundtrack. The digital English subtitles have been retranslated. Retained from the Laserdisc is film scholar Gene Youngblood's detailed audio commentary track. A true lover of the L'avventura, Youngblood's chat is keyed to the visuals, detailed, effortless, and deeply informed, in the great tradition of superb Criterion audio commentaries. Dropped from the Laserdisc is a catalog of photos, maps and illustrations from a traveling exhibit about Antonioni. In its place is a documentary made for French Canadian television, Antonioni: Documents and Testimonials, a 58-minute tour of Antonioni's place in contemporary cinema. Also on hand is a pair of writings by Antonioni, read by Jack Nicholson, and Nicholson also cheerfully ad-libs some personal recollections of working on The Passenger with Antonioni. Finally, included is the original theatrical trailer, a restoration demonstration, a small brochure with a new essay by Antonioni specialist Geoffrey Nowell-Smith, and some other historical matter related to the film. Dual-DVD keep-case.
—D.K. Holm

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