Beauty and Boredom

As I scroll through the new arrivals section of the high-end, designer, consignment website that I love, I grow bored. Everything is so beautiful that it almost loses its distinctiveness. This is how I felt watching Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’Avventura (1960.)

L’Avventura is a film defined by style–cinematographically speaking, but also in fashion. The film’s early 1960’s, Italian air of femininity, soft sexuality, wealth, longing, and boredom comes into focus through the characters’ clothes. A group of friends’ vacation off the coast of Italy turns into a would-be nightmare when Anna (Lea Massari), mysteriously and tragically goes missing. Yet, the remainder of the group, especially Anna’s fiancé Sandro (Gabriele Ferzetti) and best friend Claudia (Monica Vitti), doesn’t seem too phased. The carelessness and nonchalance with which Sandro and Claudia react to Anna’s disappearance stands in stark contrast to the impeccable attention to detail that the characters evoke through their outfits. The characters perform their desires through their fashion in a way that does not represent their real personalities, ultimately illuminating a cognitive dissonance between the characters’ longing for love and their effervescent shallowness.

Left: Monica Vitti Claudia. Right: Lea Massari as Anna

Left: Monica Vitti Claudia. Right: Lea Massari as Anna

On a yacht in the middle of the Mediterranean, bright colors rise out of the constraints of the black and white film – I can almost see the blue of the ocean, the white yacht, the white girls, and the rainbow patterned, Pucci bikinis. Anna, the lucky-in-love daughter of an aristocrat, is comfortable with witty banter and with getting her way. The stark white and crisp lines of her sundress in the opening scene elude to sunny tropes of 1950’s femininity and housewifery, yet the audience becomes aware of an undercurrent of potential darkness as Anna makes several desperate pleas to get Sandro’s attention. She jumps into the ocean and screams, making a false claim of a shark sighting. Claudia throws a newspaper into the ocean. Waste and excess abound. Both Anna and Claudia’s backs are seen while they’re changing, nodding to a covert sex appeal as outlined by a male gaze but restricted for the 1960’s viewing experience. We can’t tell if they’re women or girls or if this even matters. Not much does seem to matter besides the beautiful clothes, the beautiful people, and the beautiful scenery. One of the other couples on the trip bickers; the man says to the woman, “You always say ‘how beautiful’ to everything –whether it’s the sea, or a baby, or a cat! You have such a sensitive little heart that it throbs for anything.”

‘How beautiful,’ I repeatedly think as I lie in bed with the rain humming out my window, as I listlessly scroll; online shopping, heart, “throbbing for anything.” Everything is so beautiful. I need nothing. I have, already, more than I need. Yet, the clothes pop off the page—one beautiful thing after the next—cutting through my otherwise clouded day and transporting me to performances of other women I could be, a divergent sense of selfhood.

After Anna has goes missing, Claudia wears a shirt that Anna had given her. Anna, having slipped it into Claudia’s bag after noticing her admiring it, is leaving a part of herself for her dear friend to cherish, somehow knowing she will soon be gone. Either way, as Claudia puts the shirt on for the first time, she begins to embody Anna. Clothing is the most personal of art forms, an expression so intimate that it is of and on the body. After Anna’s disappearance, Claudia and Sandro strike up a romance of their own. Anna’s clothing becomes Claudia’s way to step into the place of the romantic figure in Sandro’s life.

The glittery closed-toed pumps sit in a digital shopping cart in one of the dozens of open tabs on my Google Chrome browser. Are they me? Am I just bored? Will I wear these a year from now? Maybe.

Throughout the rest of the film, I’m lulled into a passive boredom, only entranced by the fantasy portrayed through Claudia’s sexy, dream-like style. Her style evolves into a sophisticated palette of neutrals, sheath dresses, and pencil skirts, accentuating the curves of her figure. Claudia begins to perform a sense of hyper-femininity, yet not through the colorful hues of Anna’s seeming girlhood, but through a more developed sensibility. Simple and sensual silhouettes give an air of mature nonchalance to Claudia’s performance of femininity; though, in fact, she possesses neither maturity nor nonchalance in character. She is needy for attention (Sandro’s) because of her own emotional insecurities, proving her lack of maturity and her inability to hold onto any concrete sense of self.

Claudia expresses a more overt sexuality by wearing negligees and little black dresses as the film concludes. Through her insecure attempts to lock down Sandro’s affections— “Tell me you love me, tell me,” she cries—her performance of sexuality heightens. She’s plying at sex and romance, yet lacking any real emotional intimacy. The expression on her face while making love to Sandro, though interpolated from a male gaze, feels forced and empty.

Monica Vitti as Claudia

Monica Vitti as Claudia

Maybe our performances of selfhood through our clothing are nothing more than that. Forced and empty. An accessibility to excess ends up leaving our personalities muddled, constantly longing for a self that doesn’t exist. The beauty remains, but for what ends?

The glitter shoes remain in the digital cart. And like Sandro postulates at the end of L’Avventura, gazing out towards the unfulfilled promise of a sunset, “Who needs beautiful things these days, anyways? How long will they last?” –Linne Halpern

Linne Halpern '18 is an English and American Studies double major at Wesleyan University. She is co-founder and editor of Reverberations. 

Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni
Written by Michelangelo Antonioni, Tonino Guerra, and Elio Bartolini
Runtime: 2h 23m