Cinema is a mixed form. L'Avventura has characters, it has social context, and these things are not trivial. Its plot is the disappearance of a disappearance. Possibly the most frightening plot imaginable. Forgetting the dead, whom all of history tells us we must remember. But what makes movies themselves, rather than novels or plays, is something else. What is it if not the film medium itself? The purity of the visual, which lies in the silence of the stilled image. The freeze frame. The deeply, deeply silent image. Like death. The image in itself in its silent purity reaches--it reaches!--for the purity of death.
Here's the most startling irony I know in film history: Antonioni, who is often denigrated by left-wing critics as a formalist and aesthete gives us radical realism through the long take, and what he gives us--this is his metaphysical wager--is real outside the film, off the set, beyond the camera and underneath the surface of everyday life.