His reticence, it might be said, extended to narrative itself. Beyond brilliantly meshing visual form with theme—empty canvases with empty lives—Antonioni contributed early to cinema’s migration from Victorian narrative modes, as necessary and welcome a move as was that from Great Expectations to Mrs. Dalloway for literature. Beginning with L’avventura, his films are firmly liberated from Hollywood’s obsessive insistence on the conclusive denouement, on tying things up, whether for better (Mildred Pierce; Stagecoach) or worse (Sunset Boulevard). This was not easy or profitable for the director. The sophisticated audience at Cannes in 1960 was no more prepared than the general public to watch a film whose ostensible heroine not only disappears but is forgotten by the other characters. Probably expecting another film noir, where the body would be found and the mystery solved, the Cannes crowd booed vigorously. But, as Antonioni explained, L’avventura was a noir in reverse. Fortunately, the audience’s disapproval was quickly rejected by great cineastes and critics alike.

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