A poem after the Antonioni film L’avventura
by Dwayne Barrick
You would too like Monica Vitti
as Claudia in Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’avventura
with her impressionable and oval face
not a classic beauty like Loren or Mangano
but something more exceptional
the keenest register of emotion empathy and destruction
ratcheting up her silent strife
discomfited alone ever so beautiful
walking with her gnawing thoughts
mute but for her bedroom eyes that search
landscapes of unfulfilled desire
as if about to scream
her lips slightly open
her eyes deep reservoirs
a dream of water
or in water a dream of drowning
only to resurface in desperate gasps
realizing in one instant of unknown contingences
just how betrayal plays out in virtuoso deception
taking for its prize neither winners
nor losers but careworn hope as hostage
such as Sandro played by Gabriele Ferzetti
when he swings his pendulum keys and knocks the ink well
over the young man’s sketch
or the pharmacist digs his eyes into Claudia
while his wife stares
or Corrado turns his back on Giulia
as she approaches from a distance
or Raimondo teases a look at Patrizia’s legs
under the table on the yacht while Ettore
her husband is elsewhere
or Claudia seen waiting on the street below
within the slit of drawn curtains
to a room where Anna and Sandro
have spiritless sex
or when Claudia scurries in muffled heels
down the carpeted hall
a model of secular grief
an adrift Madonna
looking for Sandro her errant lover
of estranged hours
an entire night in fact
while an outside tower rings one o’clock then three
as she scribbles numbers in a magazine
dodici tredici quattordici quindici sedici
impish like Giulia with her dress strap bows
watching the Aeolian waterspout
spin too tightly below the storm cloud
seen from the untamed island rock
Sandro and Claudia leave for their adventure
through Sicilian towns and one a ghost of empty streets
Claudia tests with a call
Is anyone in there? that echoes through a vacant building
and later from the church roof
she pulls on a rope ringing rustic bells
in the untimely air
drawing a comic miracle of answering bells
such that Claudia holds back her love for Sandro
what with Anna her friend his lover vanished
occasioning their trip to find her but for the tension
listlessness and boredom so thick it startles you
would too when presenting impeccable taste
(they’re well-seasoned Romans)
even while roughing it on Lisca Bianca
the top of a dead volcano in the Tyrrhenian Sea
island of impossible rocks and drop-off shores
in real life too as the film crew scaled the rubble
in rain in wind in mud financing in peril
three days without food when the supply runs failed
rats mosquitoes reptiles the crew on strike
and the second crew replacing them then left
while Antonioni and his AD shot the film
his Monica among the few who didn’t complain
amid those very rocks where the party loses
one of its members
the hapless Anna
Anna! Anna! Anna! Anna!
Claudia and Giulia shout
in search for their chorus
while the score’s threadbare music
escapes from the landscape across a journey
Claudia and Sandro undertake
who first kiss on the yacht hours
after Anna goes missing much to Claudia’s self-disgust
yet she’s unable to shake him on the train
to Palermo he hops on after a false farewell
prompting her to realize she wants him
and say you and Anna. Three days!
Is it possible it takes so little to change? To forget?
because she assumed Anna’s identity
when donning her blouse only to encounter
Anna’s father whose hydrofoil sped to Lisca Bianca
without success as she is still missing
leaving Sandro to forget her under the guise
of looking for her though he is never satisfied
not even at San Domenico Palace Hotel
in Taormina where he pauses by
a woman looking at a painting
then at him who prefers someone
more like Claudia alone in their hotel room
the same woman to whom he said
I have never seen a woman like you
who needs to see everything so clearly
even as she makes funny faces in the mirror
which disturbs more than relieves considering
her beauty when with her back to the camera
she faces the window opened to the sun rising on Lisca Bianca
a ragged cliff wall to her left
and looks at the vista of morning ocean
perhaps in the way she looks at Sandro
telling him to say he loves her and when he does
she prompts him again and he says I don’t love you
before closing the bedroom door
which he slowly reopens That’s not true he says I love you
yet not quite in contradiction she tells him
on the train to Palermo she would like to be alone
as would Antonioni when asked about his films
and what they mean for literalists
who must read coded signs
Claudia sees but does not fully register
or refuses to accept though Sandro
makes it clear he wants her now and not tomorrow
the way he doesn’t register that Anna’s gone
telling Claudia It’s idiotic to sacrifice oneself
and Why? and For whom?
which she later rejects saying
Because if you told me right now
‘Claudia I love you’ I would believe you
or would she one may ask
when upon arriving in Noto to follow a lead
Claudia refuses to inquire within
with a man not her husband
in the Trinacrian sun
as young men gather
watching her closely
with an aching simmer
until Sandro returns unlike Anna
which if a spoiler it’s no use not to know
since for many her not being found spoils everything
begging the question why a main character
disappears without an accounting
a thing so unusual it mocks imitation
and plagued dear Antonioni with so many questions
of why wherefore and what’s wrong with you
would too just to save face admit there’s a scene
on the cutting room floor that shows Anna’s body
retrieved from the sea much as the old man
said of his home on Lisca Bianca
that the rocks give way
and one of his sheep fell
bleating for hours beyond help or saving
sending Claudia horrified out of his hut
into the storm
where in the night she screams
drawing Corrado to get her back inside
as she’s drenched with head bent
under falling murky skies
in a scene that bookends the one with Patrizia
when Claudia says I’m afraid Anna has come back
discovering how reversals play out and deceive
but not without warning
if heard on the yacht in the film’s first act
when the engine’s low rumble echoes
off sheer cliffs descending into deep seas
and rattles the hollow air
before Anna decides to go for a swim
and desperately bored declares
she sees a shark so Sandro
can save her or at least pay attention
to what is it about men that keeps them distracted
by their careers or the pursuit of one
as if the instinct for hunting
turns inward toward a quarry that once seized
slips away like the ancient vase let loose
from Raimondo’s indifferent hands
to shatter on rocks bringing everything back
to ancient earth so old so lonely
but ever so beautiful
though no one in the film notices the beauty
but Claudia because being middle class
she sees nature as a refuge
who out-ancients ancient Italy
grounds the story in tradition’s pentimenti
of Claudia’s guilt outweighing the pleasure
so temporary she should have skipped the adventure
ending in an instant of betrayal
both of her and hers of her friend
as she looks down
at Sandro hiding his face in shame
her lips slightly parted
her eyes drained
two empty pools
then turns to run out of the lounge
to that moment her hesitating hand
tenderly cups the back of his head
unlike on Lisca Bianca where there is nowhere to run
as she carefully maneuvers in pumps
among the boulders and stones of the treacherous shore
while the sky as deep and wide as the sea
reveals her stylish if somewhat gritty
a condition suitable for black and white
that most evocative of cinematic effects
with its transparency of shade
in a corner fashioned by light
or Claudia’s wig in Palermo where Giulia flirts
with the creepy young prince of leers
No landscape is as beautiful as a woman
who doesn’t know that no one knows
you would too try to forget all this
and though you must stake your life on it
you fear you worked so hard for failure
once reckoning you are not loved but despised
as you weep while the spectators
ridicule what would redefine cinema
now a screen for darted hoots
until the second screening at Cannes
but not before Antonioni and his Vitti fled
the boos of the international cartel
EXT. ROME – DAY
St. Peter’s Basilica in the distance.
(to her father)
Have you other
truths to tell me?
EXT. ISLAND – DAY
through a hollowed
loop of stone.
EXT. ISLAND – DAY
A search party.
Tender Is the Night.
INT. HUT ON ISLAND – DAY
palms the wall
of family pictures.
EXT. ISLAND – DAY
Running toward Anna
revealed not Anna
empty their light.
INT. PASSENGER TRAIN – DAY
Claudia and Sandro
pause to watch
a rustic woman
rib her suiter.
EXT. ABANDONED CITY – DAY
Sandro and Claudia
on the ground
forget how to kiss.
INT. HOTEL ROOM – MORNING
Giggling and pulling
hose up her thigh Claudia
at last loves Sandro.
EXT. STREET – DAY
swells the crowd
of ogling men.
INT. PRINCESS’S VILLA – DAY
Giulia tells Claudia
to tell Corrado
races races races.
EXT. OUTSIDE OF CHURCH – DAY
Priests lead their pupils
flush with sun
who catch up Sandro
floating down the line.
INT. HOTEL ROOM – DAWN
Patrizia in profile
next to Claudia.
Claudia in profile
next to Patrizia.
INT. HOTEL LOUNGE – DAWN
Sandro looks up:
Naughty boy eyes.
Hides in Gloria’s breasts:
Dirty boy eyes.
EXT. HOTEL PLAZA – DAWN
Mt. Etna in background.
Sandro and Claudia.
He on the bench.
She stands behind.
Stone wall and sky.
EXT. TERRACE SOMEWHERE OVER THE PO VALLEY
– A SUNNY MORNING
MICHELANGELO ANTONIONI enters sits and reads the poem
up to this point. He removes his glasses nods his head and sighs.
When asked what my films are about I want to say
Ortega y Gasset’s dehumanization of art
was necessarily preludial to the evacuation
of time from characters through increasingly
Who knew they’d overlook my humor?
Even with Moreau coming out of character
when the take was over
my camera rolled as she became Moreau.
Which is valid? Which is violation?
Moreau as Lidia or Lidia as Moreau?
They are both masks. They are one face. Inscrutable.
How dedicated we were then!
For Il Deserto Rosso Carlo Di Palma my cinematographer
had every leaf along a line of trees that would serve
as a distant scrim painted grey but only to be
realized while the sun was somewhat blind
yet on the day of shooting after days of painting
the sun was bright. He cancelled the shot.
ANTONIONI stands and walks to the terrace railing.
Seen from behind ANTONIONI stands before the railing.
He looks out at the vista drenched in sun.
The poem is too enthusiastic.
Perhaps it’s the American malady.
Italians have taste. Americans have appetite.
Zabriskie Point almost destroyed my career.
Should never have adventured beyond the Atlantic.
Same with China. Should have kept west of the Urals.
The artist as whore to markets or Marxists.
Opportunists or ingrates.
Only Italy is perfect for all her glorious errors.
Do you see what it takes to be an artist?
Probably not. Few do. There is much to suffer.
I suffer Bergman saying I don’t have technique.
Dear Bergman why begrudge your fellow master of his artistry
when our dying the same day gave irony my last word?
My Cannes statement to explain L’avventura?
Ancient codes of morality I wrote.
Decrepit and no longer tenable I opined.
But the old is sometimes something new.
We forgot the old.
One should never ask what a work of art is about.
You can ask what it is. What it does. Why it matters.
But not what it is about.
A work of art is not a handmaiden
to serve your preconditions.
She is a signora.
You don’t ask a strong woman what she’s about.
My northern rival of Persona thought face to face.
My heroines the Vitti women face the blank of faceless.
My canvas is the world outside the world.
Let it alone. The canvas is always wet.
A boulder rolls down the ravine and plashes.
Claudia prostrate nearby witnesses time falling.
No woman is an island but here.
INT. PRIVATE RESIDENCE – EVENING
MONICA VITTI has finished watching a private screening of L’avventura with
Antonioni for the last time. Dark but for the bright blank screen and the projector’s
beam. She speaks from the dark.
How often we had spoken of the time they booed.
How we wept! You deserved all the blame.
Your masterwork requires no explanation.
Ha! It made me a star.
A star whose face speaks
earth food pollution.
I was so young then. Michi. Before we departed.
While ever in your light
you memorialized mine.
Though not by birth
I am nobility
and wear it well.
I have done well. I mean well.
Our work together testifies to love
which women know much more about than men.
Hear me Michi.
Our love is still alive
seared onto celluloid.
A women’s love is the best story you ever told.
Others don’t like your askance look.
So many look away when you look.
It’s something you might say is ante-human
while others will say anti-human.
We have heard worse.
Askance at the world.
Remember it was you who called things off.
You the adventurer of life to stone. Stone to life.
You are a child of the Po.
I fancy of the House of Este.
That would be
that would be
Michelangelo Antonioni Monica Vitti Federico Fellini
Note: After the historically negative reception of L’avventura at the 1960 Cannes Film Festival, directors, critics, jury members, and journalists signed an open letter praising the film, prompting a second screening. Afterward, L’avventura won the festival’s Special Jury Prize. That year, the Palme d’Or, the festival’s top honor, went to Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita.
If you haven’t seen “L’avventura,” I suggest you do even if you end up disliking it. A large flat screen is preferable to a small device, if possible. On the 60th anniversary of its release, “L’avventura” remains startling, innovative, visually magnificent, and, for some, controversial.
The film is an extraordinary achievement of “slow cinema.” Not much happens yet there is tension throughout the film. The inner drama of the characters is what you feel, secret and private emotions—the kind poetry can inspire. Here are some recent thoughts on “slow cinema.”
In this poem, I eschewed almost all punctuation (no commas), relying only on syntax. It is necessary, especially in the first section, to convey the idea of montage, of images that move, as they are remembered in retrospect. In short, the poem is not so much about the film but about how great cinema, like all art, can impact the mind.
Living in southwest Ohio as a professional grant writer, Dwayne Barrick has published poetry in Southern California Review and the online journals Kin and Autumn Sky Poetry.