L’AVVENTURA directed by Michelangelo Antonioni (Italy, 1960)

Where has Monica Vitti been all my life?

I am at a loss to explain how I’ve reached mature adulthood without ever seeing her in a movie before.

This is all the more shameful as this constitutes a neglect of classic Italian cinema which, having lived in the country for 16 years, is indefensible.

I now pledge to put this right by ravaging my local ‘mediateca’.

In L’Avventura, Vitti as Claudia looks so thoroughly modern and fills the screen in this curious, but pretty great Antonioni movie. In one scene she is waiting outside a hotel in a small town and gets surrounded by a horde of horny men trying to catch her eye. She remains coolly aloof throughout this ordeal.

The plot revolves around the disappearance of Claudia’s friend Anna (Lea Massari) on the Aeolian Islands in Messina. Prior to this, Anna has expressed the desire to be alone, feeling her relationship with Sandro (Gabriele Ferzetti) to be too claustrophobic. Has she had a terrible accident or has she escaped?

During the search, Claudia and Sandro get close to the point that he proposes to her. She is reluctant to commit herself which is no bad thing as Claudia turns out to have a roving eye. When she catches him snogging an attractive but brain-dead starlet you assume that this will be the end of the affair. But the enigmatic final shot suggests she will forgive his lapse.

This is one of those movies where style trumps substance but in a good way. The cinematography is stunning and the scenes are meticulously composed, particularly when Anna goes missing and the searchers all seem lost in their own private worlds.

It also manages to be sexually charged even though, with one eye on the censors, the level of intimacy always has to be suggested rather than shown.

Vitti as the languid heroine is what transforms the plot from a stagey melodrama to one in which each of the three characters at the heart of story seem to be seeking some deeper meaning to their lives beyond the glamorous veneer. It’s no coincidence that Anna was reading F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender Is The Night when she goes missing.

Existential angst has never looked so fashionable.